Protests in Georgia: Riots in Tbilisi as parliament passes bill on foreign agents


Protests erupted in Tbilisi on Tuesday after Georgia’s parliament passed a controversial first-reading bill that would require some organizations receiving foreign funds to register as “foreign agents”. Human rights groups have criticized the law for restricting fundamental freedoms in the country.

The court session was broadcast live on the legislature’s website.

“76 yes votes, 13 no votes. “The draft law was adopted in the first reading,” said Speaker of Parliament Shalva Papuashvili.

The bill still needs to go through further readings in parliament to enter into force, but so far seems to have garnered broad support from Georgian lawmakers, despite criticism at home and abroad.

Thousands of demonstrators could be seen in front of the parliament building on Tuesday evening, holding up not only the Georgian flag but also flags of the European Union.

Some threw stones and petrol bombs, security forces responded with tear gas and water cannons. Video released on social media also showed protesters storming and tearing down a barricade at the entrance to the Parliament building.

Zurab Javakhadze/Reuters

A woman affected by tear gas receives medical aid during a rally against the ‘foreign agents’ law in Tbilisi, Georgia March 7.

There are fears the law could end the country’s hopes for closer ties with the European Union.

The President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, supported the protesters in a video message posted on Facebook, saying: “The path of European integration must be protected.” Those who support this law today, everyone who voted for this law today, is against the Constitution. They all alienate us from Europe,” she said.

She said she would repeal the law if it ended up on her desk. According to Human Rights Watch, however, the ruling dream party has the parliamentary majority to overcome a presidential veto.

“I said on day one that I would veto this law and I will,” Zourabichvili said in the video.

Zurab Javakhadze/Reuters

Demonstrators gather in front of police officers blocking the way during a rally against the ‘foreign agents’ law in Tbilisi, Georgia, March 7, 2023.

Georgia’s Interior Ministry called on the protesters to disperse and warned that “legal action” would be taken to restore calm. A total of 66 people were arrested and charged with offenses ranging from petty hooliganism to disobedience to police, the country’s public broadcaster, First Channel, reported on Wednesday.

According to First Channel, the ministry said the protest went beyond the scope of a peaceful gathering and turned into violence. According to First Channel, the protesters tried to block the entrances to Parliament House, throwing stones, smashing glasses and damaging iron fences.

Police are being forced to use proportionate force to restore public order, the ministry said, according to the Fist Channel.

The protesters’ chants of insults to both Georgian politicians and Russian President Vladimir Putin underscore fears that the bill follows a model of a controversial law in neighboring Russia, which has already imposed draconian restrictions and covenants on organizations and individuals with foreign ties.

President Zurabishvili called it “an unnecessary law that didn’t come out of nowhere but was dictated by Moscow” and told protesters she “stands by your side because you are the very people who represent free Georgia today.” Georgia, which sees its future in Europe and will not let anyone take that future away from it.”

The Georgian draft law has been widely criticized for its possible chilling effect on Georgian civil society and in particular on NGOs and news organizations with European ties.

01:00 – Source: CNN

Politicians in this country want to pass a controversial law alongside Russia. A fight broke out in Parliament

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said the bill would restrict freedom of expression and association in the country through onerous financial reporting requirements.

“The ‘foreign agent’ bills aim to marginalize and discredit independent, foreign-funded groups and media that serve the broader public interest in Georgia,” said Hugh Williamson, director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

An EU statement on Tuesday warned that the law was “inconsistent with EU values ​​and standards” and could have “serious repercussions on our relations”.

In February, US State Department spokesman Ned Price also said that “anyone who votes for this bill” could also jeopardize Georgia’s relations with Europe and the West.

The former Soviet republic has mastered the balancing act between the pro-European mood of its citizens and its regional positioning alongside Russia. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in 2011 that NATO would have expanded into Georgia if Russia had not invaded Georgia in 2008.

The invasion only lasted a few days, but it appeared to use the same pretext that Russian President Vladimir Putin used to invade Ukraine in 2014 and last year, writes think tank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

“Over the past few years, and particularly over the past 18 months, the ruling coalition of Georgia has taken a number of steps that appear to be aimed at distancing the country from the West and gradually moving it into the sphere of influence of Russia,” ECFR writes in a report there a large part of the tendency is attributed to the ruling party “Georgian Dream”.