Protests erupt in Tblisi as Georgian parliament passes draft foreign agents bill



Protests erupted in Tbilisi on Tuesday after Georgia’s parliament passed the first reading of a controversial draft law that would require certain organizations receiving foreign funding to register as “foreign agents”. Rights groups have criticized the law as curtailing fundamental freedoms in the country.

The court session was telecast live on the website of the Legislative Assembly.

76 in favor, 13 against. The bill was adopted in the first reading,” said Parliament Speaker Shalva Papushvili.

The bill must pass further readings in parliament to become law, but so far appears to have broad support among Georgian lawmakers despite criticism at home and abroad.

Thousands of protesters could be seen outside the parliament building on Tuesday night, holding not only the Georgian flag, but also EU flags.

Some threw stones and petrol bombs, as security forces responded with tear gas and water cannons. In a video posted on social media, protesters were also shown breaking and tearing down a barricade at the entrance to the Parliament building.

There are fears the law could hamper the country’s hopes for closer ties with the European Union.

Georgia’s president, Salome Zurabichvili, threw her support behind the protesters in a video message posted on Facebook, saying, “The path to European integration must be preserved. Those who support this law today, “All those who voted for this law today are violating the constitution. They are all taking us away from Europe,” he said.

She said she would veto the legislation if it crossed her desk. However, the ruling Dream Party has the parliamentary majority to overcome the president’s veto, according to Human Rights Watch.

“I said on day one that I would veto this legislation, and I will,” Zourbichvili said in the video.

Protesters gathered in front of police officers, who blocked the way during the counter rally

Georgia’s interior ministry has called on protesters to disperse, warning that “legal measures” will be taken to restore peace.

“Protests have turned violent near the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi. Protesters attempted to block an entrance to Parliament, and there are reports of violence against ministry personnel,” read a statement from the Ministry of Interior.

Protesters’ chants, along with insults to both Georgian politicians and Russian President Vladimir Putin, underscored fears that the bill follows the model of a controversial law in neighboring Russia that already imposes strict restrictions on organizations and individuals with foreign ties. And the requirements have been implemented.

President Zurabichvili called it “an unnecessary law that came from nowhere, but was dictated by Moscow,” telling protesters that she “stands with you because you are the people who represent independent Georgia today. Georgia Who sees his future in Europe and will not let anyone take that future away from him.

The Georgian bill has been widely criticized as having a potential chilling effect on Georgian civil society, and particularly on NGOs and news organizations with ties to Europe.

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Politicians in this country next to Russia want to pass controversial laws. There was a dispute in the parliament

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said that the bill would hamper rights to freedom of expression in the country and association with stricter financial reporting requirements.

“The ‘foreign agent’ bill seeks to marginalize and discredit independent, foreign-funded groups and media that serve the broader public interest in Georgia,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. are.”

An EU statement warned on Tuesday that the law would be “incompatible with EU values ​​and standards” and “could have a serious impact on our relationship.”

In February, the spokesperson of the US State Department, Ned Price, also said that “anyone voting for this draft law” could also damage Georgia’s relations with Europe and the West.

The former Soviet republic has struck a balance between the pro-European sentiment of its citizens and its regional position with Russia. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Said in 2011 If Russia had not invaded Georgia in 2008, NATO would have expanded into Georgia.

The think tank writes that the attack lasted only a few days, but appears to have been used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to attack Ukraine in 2014 and last year. European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

“Over the past few years, and especially over the past 18 months, Georgia’s ruling coalition has taken a number of steps designed to distance the country from the West and gradually move it into Russia’s sphere of influence. ,” ECFR writes in a report. Where it gives the ruling Georgian Dream Party a lot of sway.

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