Protests erupted in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi Wednesday after Georgia’s parliament endorsed a “foreign agent” bill. If it passes, the bill would require individuals and organizations to register as “foreign agents” if they meet certain qualifications. Should the designated individuals and organizations fail to do so and live up to strict reporting requirements, they would face fines and potential prison time.
Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs characterized Wednesday’s gathering as “the development of a peaceful protest into violent action.” 50 police officers were injured and Georgian authorities arrested 66 protestors during the protest. Wednesday’s protests followed March 2 protests about the same foreign agent bill, during which Georgian authorities arrested 36 protestors.
Parliament’s majority party, known as the People’s Power Party, initially proposed the bill. The bill, “On Transparency of Foreign Funding,” would require all civil society organizations and media that receive at least 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to register as “foreign agents” or face a fine of 25,000 (US $9,600). Once registered, designated foreign agents would face strict reporting requirements, inspections and potential criminal and administrative liability. A “more severe” second draft bill expands the requirement to register as a “foreign agent” from organizations to individuals. It also increases the penalties for the failure to fulfill its requirements from fines to five years in prison.
Several Georgian opposition lawmakers criticized the bill, including Georgia President Salome Zourabichvili. In February, lawmakers from the ruling party and opposition parties engaged in physical and verbal confrontation during discussions about the bill. Zourabichvili released a statement indicating support for the protestors. One lawmaker called for a March 2 rally outside the Parliament building.
The draft bill’s explanatory note states
it was inspired by the US Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Some lawmakers have criticized the bill as “Russia inspired
.” Zourabichvili called supporters of the bill “in violation of the constitution” and indicated she will veto it if it reaches her desk.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International described
the bill as a “blatant effort to restrict the ability of associations and media to operate freely and independently, and stigmatize independent groups.”