Georgia lawmakers pass controversial ‘foreign agent’ bill News
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Georgia lawmakers pass controversial ‘foreign agent’ bill

Georgia’s parliament on Tuesday adopted a controversial law designating civil society organizations that receive funding from abroad as “foreign agents.”

The law stipulates that civil society organizations receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from international donors must formally register as foreign agents — a term that evokes images of Cold War-era espionage.

The legislative process has spurred local protests and provoked the ire of international advocacy groups, which argue the law stifles civil society and fundamental freedoms. Marie Struthers, Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, referred to the law as a contravention of “Georgia’s international obligations on the rights to freedom of expression and association and strikes at the heart of civil society’s ability to operate freely and effectively.”

Ahead of the law’s passage, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze voiced defiance, arguing that pressure to derail it had come from outside the country, comparing the pressure exerted by Western nations to that of their Soviet counterpart during the Cold War:

If we succumb to unreasoned and falsehood-based external dictates reminiscent of Soviet-style interference, we may soon find ourselves pressured to abandon family values, dilute juvenile protection laws, legalize same-sex marriages, permit drug use and open our borders to uncontrolled immigration—trends that are rapidly taking hold in various countries. Furthermore, our nation cannot perpetually live in a state of externally influenced polarization and radicalism.

As the bill worked its way through Georgia’s legislative system, the EU was critical, arguing that its passage would “render the work of civil society organizations and independent media in Georgia effectively impossible due to costly and time-consuming administrative burdens, possible legal prosecutions, and the reputational disruption of the ‘foreign agent’ label.”

In 2012, Russia enacted a similar law, which has since proved instrumental in stifling free press and expression in the country. Scores of organizations dedicated to human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as independent news outlets and individuals, have been relegated to the Justice Ministry’s Registry of Foreign Agents.