Georgian parliament approves divisive bill that sparked weeks of mass protests

14 May 2024, 14:14

A demonstrator wears a national flag as she argues with the police that blocked the road towards parliament during an opposition protest against 'the Russian law' in Tbilisi, Georgia,
Georgia Divisive Law. Picture: PA

Renewed demonstrations have rocked Georgia for weeks, but legislators passed the bill which critics have dubbed ‘the Russian Law’ regardless.

The Georgian parliament has approved in its third and final reading a divisive bill that sparked weeks of mass protests.

The bill requires media and non-governmental organisations as well as other non-profits to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

Critics see it as a threat to democratic freedoms and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union.

This photo taken from video shows Georgian legislators fighting during a parliament session in Tbilisi
This photo taken from video shows Georgian legislators fighting during a parliament session in Tbilisi (Mtavari Channel/AP)

The bill is nearly identical to one that the governing Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after street protests.

Renewed demonstrations have rocked Georgia for weeks, but legislators passed it regardless.

Over the weekend, thousands poured into the streets of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, and many stayed in front of the parliament until Monday morning.

The opposition has denounced the bill as “the Russian law”, because Moscow uses similar legislation to crack down on independent news media, non-profits and activists critical of the Kremlin.

The bill is nearly identical to one that the governing Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after street protests.

Renewed demonstrations have rocked Georgia for weeks, with demonstrators scuffling with police, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.

A demonstrator wears a national flag as he argues with the police
A demonstrator wears a national flag as he argues with the police during a protest in Tbilisi (Shakh Aivazov/AP)

The government says the bill is necessary to stem what it deems as harmful foreign influence over the country’s politics and to prevent unspecified foreign actors from trying to destabilise it.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who is increasingly at odds with the governing party, has vowed to veto the law, but Georgian Dream has a majority sufficient to override a presidential veto.

The legislature approved a second reading of the bill earlier this month, after protests that drew tens of thousands of people.

A demonstrator speaks to the police that blocked the road towards the Georgian parliament building during an opposition protest against 'the Russian law'
A demonstrator speaks to the police that blocked the road towards the Georgian parliament building during an opposition protest against ‘the Russian law’ (Shakh Aivazov/AP)

European Council President Charles Michel spoke of Georgia in Copenhagen at a conference on democracy on Tuesday, and said that “if they want to join the EU, they have to respect the fundamental principles of the rule of law and the democratic principles”.

A brawl erupted in the parliament as legislators were debating the bill on Tuesday morning.

Georgian Dream MP Dimitry Samkharadze was seen charging toward Levan Khabeishvili, the chairman of main opposition party United National Movement, after Khabeishvili accused him of organising mobs to beat up opposition supporters.

In recent days, several protesters and opposition members have been beaten up.

The opposition linked the incidents to mass protests that have swept the South Caucasus nation of 3.7 million.

By Press Association

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