Georgian parliamentary speaker signs ‘foreign agents’ bill into law

By Thomson Reuters Jun 3, 2024 | 3:13 AM

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia’s parliamentary speaker signed into law on Monday a bill on “foreign agents” that has caused a political crisis in the South Caucasus country and drawn sharp criticism from its Western allies.

The dispute around the law is a test of whether Georgia, for three decades among the more pro-Western of the Soviet Union’s successor states, will maintain its Western orientation or move closer to Russia.

Parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili signed the bill into law after government lawmakers voted last week to overcome a veto by President Salome Zourabichvili, who had criticised it, Georgian media reported on Monday.

The legislation requires organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from overseas to register as “agents of foreign influence”, and introduces fines for violations as well as onerous disclosure requirements.

Opponents of the bill have for more than a month mounted some of the largest protests in Georgia since independence from Moscow in 1991 as the Soviet Union crumbled.

A group of Georgian NGOs has said they will challenge the legislation in the constitutional court and is preparing a submission to the European Court of Human Rights, Georgian media reported last week.

The United States, the European Union and Britain have criticised the bill. Georgian opposition groups call it “the Russian law”, saying it is modelled on Russian legislation used to target opponents of President Vladimir Putin.

Russia is unpopular among many Georgians for its support of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with public opinion broadly supportive of membership in the EU and NATO. Russia defeated Georgia in a five-day war in 2008.

Washington has threatened to sanction Georgian officials who voted for the bill. The Georgian government has accused Western countries of blackmail and said the law is necessary to stop them dragging Georgia into another war with Russia.

Russia denies any role in backing the bill, which it has defended against the Western criticism.

(Reporting by Reuters, Editing by Peter Graff and Timothy Heritage)