Georgia: Thousands protest 'foreign agent' bill in Tbilisi

World Sunday 12/May/2024 15:22 PM
By: DW
Georgia: Thousands protest 'foreign agent' bill in Tbilisi

Tbilisi: Thousands of people on Saturday took to the streets of Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, to protest a "foreign agent" bill critics argue will undermine the country's civil society.

The Reuters news agency cited witnesses as saying that around 50,000 protesters took part in the march. Red and white Georgian flags could be seen waving alongside the blue and yellow flags of the EU.

The bill, which passed its second reading in parliament this month, has been called "the Russian law" by critics who liken it to legislation adopted by Moscow in 2012 and then tightened in 2022 following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

If adopted, the law would require any NGO or media organisation receiving more than 20% of its funding from abroad to register as an "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

Several large rallies have been held over the bill over the past month. The ruling Georgian Dream party had dropped the bill last year following substantial backlash, but revived it earlier this year.

On April 30, Georgian police broke up a demonstration using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets and making dozens of arrests.

The European Union, the United States and the United Nations have voiced opposition to the bill. The EU has warned that the proposed law could threaten Georgia's chances of joining the bloc.

Saturday's rally comes a day after Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said the government would go ahead with the proposal despite objections from what he described as "misled" youth.

Kobakhidze and his Georgian Dream have argued that the bill will increase transparency over the foreign funding of NGOs.

Last month, Georgian Dream honourary chairman and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili made a speech condemning NGOs, calling them a "pseudo-elite nurtured by a foreign country." He also blamed Western countries for Moscow's 2008 invasion of Georgia and the war in Ukraine.

The ruling party has been accused of trying to steer the country closer to Russia following years of nurturing relations with the West.

Georgian Dream has said that it plans to sign the bill into law by mid-May. The former Soviet country is set to hold parliamentary elections in October.