Last night in Tbilisi, Georgia, police used heavy amounts of teargas and water cannon to disperse thousands of peaceful protesters who gathered spontaneously to protest the draft “foreign agents” bill, which the ruling The majority broke through parliament in the first reading.
Police detained dozens of people who now face various administrative and criminal charges. I witnessed the protest myself and see no valid reason for the government to use such force to stop this peaceful assembly.
if adopted, bill will be required NGOs and media outlets to register as “agents of foreign influence” if they receive 20 percent of their funding from abroad. These groups would be subject to additional scrutiny, scrutiny and fines, and their leaders could be jailed for violating the law. A second bill to be voted on tomorrow would impose similar requirements on individuals.
The bill will have to go through two more readings to become law.
Both bills are consistent with Georgia’s human rights obligations to protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, and there is no doubt that the intent is to have a chilling effect on the country’s critical voices.
This threat is real. Georgian officials claim that the bill is about promoting funding transparency. But his statements indicate that if the bills are adopted, they will make them weapons for a witch hunt to stigmatize and punish independent groups, the media and critical voices.
Just yesterday, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili told the media, “The future of our country … no longer belongs to foreign agents.” Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, also Said that the law would “formulate a list of groups opposed to the interests of the country and the Church.”
United States Embassy in Georgia Apt called Tomorrow a “black day” for the country’s democracy. Georgia’s other partners issued similarly strong statements and warnings. Their message is loud and clear: Adoption of the “foreign agent” bill would be inconsistent with Georgia’s commitments to human rights and its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
I hope Georgia’s leaders heed these warnings and ensure a safe and enabling environment for the country civil society, rather than a bill that would clearly impede and undermine it. As I write this, another rally is taking place in front of Parliament to protest against the law. I hope this time the authorities will fully respect the freedom of assembly and not unnecessarily interfere with the peaceful expression of grievances.