Georgia parliament cancels session amid mass protests over ‘foreign agents’ bill News
Georgia parliament cancels session amid mass protests over ‘foreign agents’ bill

The Parliament of Georgia cancelled their plenary session on Thursday for a highly controversial “foreign agents” bill amid widespread protests as well as criticism from the EU and US, local media reported.

Parliament stated that the cancellation was due to damage caused to the parliamentary building as a result of mass protests against the bill. Thousands of Georgian people have taken to the streets of Tbilisi to protest against the bill this week, with many viewing it as authoritarian. According to reports from Radio Free Europe, violence was used by the police against the protestors, with reports of rubber bullets, pepper spray, and individuals being arrested.

The cancelled sessions would have followed the approval of the second reading of the bill on Wednesday, during which 83 voted in favor of the bill and 23 voted against. The bill concerns the “transparency of foreign influence” on media and non-commercial organizations and requires these groups to register as pursuing the interests of a foreign power if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

There has been uproar from protestors that the bill will hinder Georgia’s chances of gaining membership into the European Union (EU). The EU has criticized the bill for its possible impacts on the freedom of media and civil society, saying that “ensuring media freedom is at the core of democracy.” The EU Press Team further stated that while they support Georgia’s aspirations to develop as a nation, this bill is “inconsistent with these aspirations and with EU norms and values.”

Following this, the US Department of the State criticized the bill in a statement from spokesperson Matthew Miller. He stated the bill is influenced by the Russian government and that officials have adopted a “false narrative” to defend it. He continued the statement by condemning any use of violence against the protestors in Georgia:

We stand with the Georgian people and their right to have their voices heard. We condemn the use of violence against peaceful protests, including against journalists covering the demonstrations. Use of force to suppress peaceful assembly and freedom of speech is unacceptable, and we urge authorities to allow non-violent protesters to continue to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

These protests have continued on Thursday and Friday, with some more violence from police being reported. The final reading of the bill was expected later in May and it is unclear how these events will impact the passage of the law.