Georgia controversial ‘foreign agent’ bill passes first reading in Parliament News
Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Georgia controversial ‘foreign agent’ bill passes first reading in Parliament

The Georgian Parliament passed the “transparency of foreign influence” bill in its first reading on Wednesday, according to Georgian news sources IMEDI News. The bill passed despite repeated calls from the EU to withdraw the legislation and mass domestic protests. During a session deliberating the bill’s passage on Monday, a brawl erupted during a speech by the leader of the Georgian Dream Party Mamuka Mdinaradze, who introduced the bill. The bill must pass two more readings to become law.

The bill requires entities in Georgia receiving over 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as foreign agents, which would include most civil society and media organizations. In March 2023, the Georgian government was forced to unconditionally withdraw a similar draft bill during its second reading. The bill has also been criticized as being similar to the “foreign agents” law in Russia used to crack down on dissent.

The EU condemned the “transparency of foreign influence” bill, expressing concerns that it could potentially hinder Georgia’s EU membership aspirations. The EU stated that the law “is not in line with EU core norms and values” and could potentially restrict the operations of civil society and media organizations. The US similarly criticized the law, stating, “If adopted, the proposed legislation could limit freedom of expression, stigmatize organizations that deliver these benefits to the citizens of Georgia, and impede independent media organizations working to provide Georgians with access to high quality information.”

Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili claimed the bill was in line with fundamental rights and sought to address foreign influence proportionately. He also compared it to the EU’s Directive on organizations carrying interest representation on behalf of third countries. According to the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), the EU’s Directive aims to ensure transparency with the aim of upholding democracy, whilst the Georgian bill aims to undermine civil society under the pretext of transparency.