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Georgia parliament pushes through 'foreign agents' law

May 28, 2024

The legislation has triggered weeks of protests in the capital, Tbilisi, and drawn criticism from Western governments. Opponents say it will curb media freedom and hurt Georgia's chances of joining the European Union.

A protester waves a Georgian flag outside Georgia's parliament
Protesters gathered in the capital as the president's veto of the 'foreign agents' legislation was overturnedImage: DAVID MDZINARISHVILI/EPA

Georgian lawmakers on Tuesday voted down a presidential veto of the controversial "foreign agents" legislation, clearing the way for the bill to come into force. 

The law, which has led to weeks of mass protests, would require media outlets and NGOs that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

Lawmakers voted 84 to 4 to override a veto by President Salome Zourabichvili and pass the bill. Most opposition MPs walked out of the 150-seat chamber ahead of the vote.

Georgian parliament adopts 'foreign influence' law

The legislation was put forward by the ruling Georgian Dream party in April and approved by the parliament earlier this month.

The bill has been widely criticized by the EU, UN, NATO and the US. Washington has announced travel sanctions over the measure.

"It is unfortunate that Georgia's leaders are choosing to forego the steps needed to advance Georgia and the western direction that its people want," US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

The EU said that it "deeply regrets" the law's adoption. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was "considering all options to react to these developments."

Why did the president veto the bill?

President Zourabichvili, a fierce critic of the governing party, vetoed the bill on May 18.

In an interview with DW ahead of the veto, she accused Georgian Dream of jeopardizing the country's future and said the law had become a "symbol of a number of laws and measures and rhetoric that is taking Georgia away from its European path."

"What I think is important is that the country continues on its path towards Europe," she said. 

The government has defended the legislation, saying it is needed to ensure transparency and to keep a lid on harmful foreign actors seeking to detabilize the South Caucasus country.

Meanwhile, opponents have labeled the bill "the Russian law" because it is similar to measures pushed through by Moscow to crack down on independent media and dissent. Critics also say the bill aims to appease the Kremlin and restrict media freedoms in the leadup to Georgia's parliamentaly elections in October.

Georgian lawmaker defends new 'foreign agent' law

Protests again erupt in Tbilisi

Thousands of people gathered outside parliament on Tuesday, waving Georgian and EU flags ahead of a planned evening rally.

There have been repeated clashes between demonstrators and police since the law was first proposed several weeks ago. 

Speaking from Tbilisi, DW correspondent Maria Katamadze described the situation as "very fragile, very volatile."

"This comes after the unprecedented domestic backlash from the streets of Tbilisi where mainly youth, Gen Z and grassroot movements have been protesting for over a month now," she said. "They say this is a national resistance to the government's actions that many critics say is going to damage the reputation of Georgia across the world and damage the relationship with the West."

What's behind Georgia's divisive 'foreign agents' law?

nm/msh (AFP, AP)