US announces visa restrictions tied to Georgia foreign influence law News
VOA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
US announces visa restrictions tied to Georgia foreign influence law

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced visa restrictions Thursday against Georgia citizens involved in suppressing dissent toward the country’s “foreign influence” law that will require media companies and non-governmental organizations with foreign backing to register as organizations acting in the interest of foreign powers.

The DOJ criticized the Georgian government for using “repressive tactics” to clamp down on recent protests and argued that the law would damage the rights to freedom of expression and association while also hurting Georgian citizens’ ability to access information.

The visa restriction policy “will apply to individuals who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members … [including] individuals responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation.”

In April, the “foreign influence” bill was reintroduced after being originally submitted to the Georgian parliament last year before being withdrawn amid public outcry. Georgia’s government passed the bill last week, and although the bill was vetoed by Georgia President Salome Zourabichvili, the veto is expected to be overridden by parliament as soon as next week.

The bill requires media companies and non-governmental organizations who receive more than 20 percent of their income from foreign countries to register with the government and disclose information pertinent to funding or be faced with significant fines. Non-compliance could also result in the Georgia government freezing assets or shuttering the activities of the organizations in violation of the law.

The Georgian Dream Party, which has supported the bill, argued that the law is necessary to protect the Georgia political process from foreign meddling. The party also argued that the bill is similar to foreign agent laws in the US and EU. Opponents have decried it as a “Russian-styled” law that will hurt freedom of speech and rapprochement with the West, damaging any possibility of NATO membership for the transcontinental country.

The Georgia ruling party has slammed the visa restrictions as “blackmail” and a “gross attempt to restrict Georgia’s independence and sovereignty.” Meanwhile, protests in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi have sparked violent clashes between protestors and riot police for over a month since the law was introduced.