Georgia’s “Foreign Agent” Law Moves Closer to Adoption Amid Mass Protests

Published: 13 May 2024

Georgia Protests ForeignAgentLaw 110524Protesters holding banners that say: “No to the Russian Law, Yes to Europe.” (Photo: Salome Kvirikashvili)

By Khatia Nikolaishvili, Aidan Iusubova and Marika Dudunia

Tens of thousands spent the weekend in front of the Georgian parliament protesting against the adoption of the so-called “foreign agent law,” but have not managed to stop it from getting closer to adoption on Monday.

Opponents labeled it the “Russian law,” linking it to Russia's notorious Foreign Agent Law, which has been used to suppress independent voices.

The controversial legislation would mandate that non-governmental organizations and independent media outlets receiving funds from abroad register as agents of foreign influence, “pursuing the interests of a foreign power,” subjecting them to government scrutiny.

The crowd carried banners that read “No to the Russian Law, Yes to Europe” and “After the ISET exams, are you scaring us with a water hose?” ISET is The International School of Economics at the State University in Tbilisi.

They chanted “No to Russia, yes to Europe” all night long.

On Monday morning, protesters unsuccessfully tried to prevent lawmakers from entering the building where the Parliament’s Legal Issues Committee was supposed to discuss the bill.

Members of the Committee who support the law managed to enter, but those known to be against it were stopped at the entrance by police for questioning.

Ana Natsvlishvli from the Lelo Party insisted on getting in, but the policeman at the door told her he did not know who she was. The discussion between the officers and the opposition members took a while and in the meantime, the Committee met with only the supporters in the conference room.

“Do you have a question, comment, or opinion?” Chairman Anri Okhanashvili opened the session. “There are no questions, comments, or opinions. Let's put the law to the vote. Who is in favor of supporting the presented text?” he asked as everybody in the room raised his hand.

“Thank you very much, the bill was supported by the members present in the Committee. The Committee meeting is over…”

It lasted one minute and six seconds.

After being allowed in too late, Natsvlishvli shared a video on social media showing police in the inner courtyard of the building preparing water trucks and hoses to fight off protesters.

“This is what is needed to adopt a ‘democratic law,’” she can be heard saying.

Meanwhile, police detained 20 people while trying to disperse the protest using force. According to local media, two of them are U.S. citizen and one is Russian, though their identities haven’t been made public.

According to Mamuka Mdiniradze, a lawmaker from the ruling Georgian Dream Party which initiated the law, one of the three detained people refuses to reveal his identity, which is “precisely the purpose the law on transparency serves and will serve.”

Protests against the bill have been rocking Georgia for weeks. Only on Saturday, an estimated 300,000 people turned out for the rally, according to the open-source intelligence site Visioner.

“For a month now, we have been guarding our freedom here and calling on the authorities to withdraw this Russian law, which is pushing us towards Russian authoritarianism and turning our backs on European values,” Baniamin Kasimoglu, who was standing all night in front of the parliament, told OCCRP.

“Today we gathered once again; we must spend the night and once again defend our freedom. If they don't hear our voice, we will stand here on the 14th of May as well, and they will hear our voices when they discuss this law at the plenary session,” he pledged.

Nanka Kalatozishvili, another protester, stressed that this was their final battle against the Georgian Dream-led government.

“We must somehow take this country away from Russia’s grip. Today, the Georgian Dream is trying very hard to scare us, but we are simply not afraid. We won't back down,” she said.

Several Members of the European Parliament wrote a letter on Monday to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, asking him to prepare “targeted sanctions against those in Georgia who are steering the country away from its European future.”

The letter was posted on X by Thijs Reuten, one of the signatories. In it, the MEPs promise to “continue to support Georgia’s pro-European people.”

The bill will be discussed in Parliament on Tuesday, and if passed, it will be sent to the country’s president for signing.