Georgia withdraws ‘foreign agent’ law after days of protests |  News

An EU delegation welcomed the decision to drop the controversial draft law and encouraged Georgia to resume reforms.

After days of protests in the capital, Georgia’s ruling party announced that it is withdrawing a bill from parliament it has criticized as potentially restricting media freedom and civil society.

The Georgian Dream party said in a statement on Thursday that it would “unconditionally and without reservations withdraw the bill we support”. It cited the need to reduce “confrontation” in society.

The draft law would have required Georgian organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their funds from abroad to register as “foreign agents” or face fines. Georgian Dream previously said the law was necessary to expose critics of the Georgian Orthodox Church, one of the country’s most powerful institutions.

Opponents of the bill, including Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who said she would veto it if it landed on her desk, have likened it to a 2012 Russian law used to stifle dissent.

The Georgian government says the legislation is modeled after US laws on foreign agents, which have been in effect since the 1930s.

The bill had angered supporters of Georgia’s European Union membership after EU officials condemned the bill, saying it would complicate Georgia’s path to EU membership. Last year the EU refused to grant Georgia candidate status alongside Moldova and Ukraine, citing deadlocked political and judicial reforms.

Kakhaber Kemoklidze of the opposition For Georgia party said the turnaround was a victory for the Georgian people.

“Eight-five percent of Georgian society is very European, and the European perspective is enshrined in the Georgian constitution. This law, drafted by the ruling party, directly undermines the Georgian constitution,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This withdrawal is a special result of society’s extreme anger at what we have witnessed over the past 48 hours.”

Demonstrators wave placards and an EU flag as they demonstrate in front of the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi, March 7, 2023 [AFP]

An EU delegation in Georgia said Thursday it welcomed the ruling party’s decision to withdraw controversial laws.

“We welcome the ruling party’s announcement that it will withdraw the ‘foreign influence’ bill. We encourage all political leaders in Georgia to resume pro-EU reforms…so that Georgia can be granted candidate status,” it said in a statement.

Parliament gave its first approval on Tuesday, but then tens of thousands of protesters rallied outside Parliament and again on Wednesday. Some protesters threw petrol bombs, rocks and plastic bottles at police. At least one window in the Parliament building was smashed and a police car overturned.

After several hours of protests, the police used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons to disperse the crowds. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, 77 people were arrested during the protests on Tuesday.