Georgian parliament to vote on ‘foreign agent’ bill second reading

By Thomson Reuters Apr 30, 2024 | 4:02 AM

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia’s parliament was set on Tuesday to debate the second reading of a bill on “foreign agents” which has been described as authoritarian and Russian-inspired by Georgia’s opposition and Western countries.

The bill would require organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents”, and has sparked protests by those who say it represents what they call the government’s authoritarian tendencies.

Parliament, which is controlled by the ruling Georgian Dream party and its allies, is likely to approve the bill, which must pass one more reading before becoming law.

Georgian critics have labelled the bill “the Russian law”, comparing to Russia’s foreign agent legislation, which has been used to crack down on dissent there.

Russia is disliked by many Georgians for its support of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia lost a brief war with Russia in 2008.

The United States, Britain and the European Union, which granted Georgia candidate status in December, have criticised the bill. EU officials have said it could halt Georgia’s progress towards integration with the bloc.

On Monday, former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire who founded the ruling Georgian Dream bloc and remains influential inside it, harshly criticised the West in a speech to a pro-government rally in Tbilisi.

Ivanishvili told tens of thousands of attendees, many of whom had been bussed in from Georgian provinces by the ruling party, that a “global party of war” had hijacked the EU, and NATO and was bent using those institutions to undermine Georgian sovereignty.

Ivanishvili, who says he wants Georgia to join the EU, said the foreign agent law would bolster Georgian sovereignty, and suggested that the country’s pro-Western opposition was controlled by foreign intelligence services via grants to NGOs.

“This money has nothing to do with help, in fact their only aim is the loss of Georgian sovereignty,” he said.

He added that after elections due by October, the country’s opposition, which is dominated by the United National Movement party of former President Mikheil Saakhashvili, would face “the harsh political and legal judgment it deserves”.

(Reporting by Felix Light, Editing by Timothy Heritage)