Massive Protests Erupt In Georgia Over Controversial "Foreign Influence" Law

Critics have compared the law to repressive Russian legislation aimed at silencing dissent. It mandates that organizations receiving at least 20% of their funding from abroad register as “foreign agents.”

Thousands of Georgians rallied outside the parliament on Tuesday after ruling party MPs passed a contentious “foreign influence” law, overriding a presidential veto despite warnings from Western countries that it could jeopardize Georgia’s aspirations to join the European Union.

 Details of the Law

Critics have compared the law to repressive Russian legislation aimed at silencing dissent. It mandates that organizations receiving at least 20% of their funding from abroad register as “foreign agents.”

International Reactions

The proposal has faced strong opposition from Western nations, including the United States, which warned that the measure could stifle freedom of expression in the Black Sea Caucasus nation. The European Union declared the law incompatible with Georgia’s bid for EU membership, a goal enshrined in the country’s constitution and supported by over 80% of the population according to opinion polls.

Parliamentary Vote

The Georgian parliament passed the bill with an 84 to 4 vote, overriding President Salome Zurabishvili’s veto. Most opposition MPs walked out of the session in protest. The EU expressed deep regret over the law’s adoption, with foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell stating that the bloc was considering its options in response to the development.

Public Outcry and Protests

Protesters waving Georgian and EU flags gathered en masse outside parliament following the vote. The national anthem of Georgia and the EU’s Ode to Joy were performed at the rally. President Zurabishvili addressed the crowd via video, urging them to channel their anger into preparing for a referendum in the upcoming October elections.

“You are angry today, aren’t you? Get angry, but let’s get to work. The work is that we have to prepare, first of all, for a true referendum,” she said. “Do we want a European future or Russian slavery? Eighty-four men cannot decide this, we can – we, all together.”

 Massive Protests Erupt in Georgia Over Controversial “Foreign Influence” Law

Protests have been part of a broader wave of daily demonstrations over the past seven weeks since the ruling Georgian Dream party revived the plans. Protester Lizi Kenchoshvili, 23, expressed her frustration and determination to continue the fight against the law. Opposition lawmaker Khatia Dekanoidze criticized the move as a geopolitical shift towards Russia and anticipated sanctions from the US and EU.

 Government’s Stance

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze dismissed the idea of sanctions, asserting that no one could punish the Georgian people or their elected authorities. The Georgian Dream party claims the law promotes transparency and prevents foreign-funded groups from undermining the nation’s sovereignty. However, rights organizations and Western governments argue the law could escalate tensions ahead of the crucial October parliamentary elections.

Tensions in Parliament

The parliamentary session was marked by high tensions, with incidents such as opposition lawmaker Giorgi Vashadze being doused with water during his speech. Scuffles have broken out between government and opposition lawmakers on multiple occasions over the past month.

 Warnings from the EU

Earlier, Josep Borrell warned that Georgia’s government was veering off its European path. President Zurabishvili has called on the opposition to unite ahead of the upcoming elections.

International and Domestic Repercussions

The US announced potential visa restrictions on Georgian officials if the bill becomes law and is reviewing its relations with Tbilisi. Activists, journalists, and opposition politicians have faced violence and threats since the draft legislation was announced, which rights groups describe as a targeted campaign.

The unfolding situation in Georgia highlights the growing tensions and significant international implications of the controversial “foreign influence” law.