Georgia’s parliament drops controversial ‘foreign agents’ bill

Meanwhile, the Kremlin accuses Washington of stoking anti-Russian sentiment among the thousands who protested against the bill.

Georgian anti-government protesters rally outside the parliament
Georgian anti-government protesters rally outside the parliament as lawmakers vote to call off controversial 'foreign agent' bill that sparked an international outcry and mass protests in the Caucasus country earlier this week, in Tbilisi on March 10, 2023 [Vano Shlamov/AFP]

Georgia’s parliament has dropped plans for a “foreign agents” bill that triggered a major domestic political crisis and threatened to derail the nation’s bid for closer ties with Europe.

On Friday, the bill was voted down in the second reading after only one lawmaker – out of 36 who voted – backed the legislation that critics had compared with laws in Russia that authorities have used to silence Moscow’s opponents. The majority of the 112-member parliament abstained from voting.

Hundreds of anti-government protesters rallied outside the legislature during the vote.

Tens of thousands of Georgians had taken to the streets in the capital, Tbilisi, for three consecutive nights of protest against the initiative, saying the government was trying to take the country towards autocracy.

Lawmakers attend a plenary session of parliament where they vote on controversial 'foreign agents' bill that sparked mass protests in recent days, in Tbilisi, Georgia March 10, 2023
Politicians attend a plenary session of parliament where they vote on controversial ‘foreign agents’ bill in Tbilisi, Georgia [Parliament of Georgia/Handout via Reuters]

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith reporting from Tblisi said people were “very pleased” with the bill failing to pass in parliament.

“When asked if the government will keep its word, people are suspicious of the government. They view it as a pro Russian government,” Smith added.

“But they are very pleased obviously that they got their way. They point to the power of the streets and how it managed to influence the government.”

Police used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to disperse the protesters, who had amassed outside parliament in the centre of Tbilisi, detaining dozens in the process.

The bill would have required non-government organisations that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register with Georgia’s Justice Ministry as a Foreign Agent.

The governing Georgian Dream party pulled its support for the bill on Thursday, a move that was welcomed by the European Union and the United States


Opponents said the bill was reminiscent of a 2012 Russian law that the Kremlin has used extensively to crack down on civil society and independent media.

The plans, pushed by the governing party, bolstered domestic criticism of the government as being too close to Moscow, in contrast to Georgian public opinion, which is fiercely anti-Russian.

The government had defended the law as necessary to increase transparency in the funding of non-government organisations and unmask critics of the powerful Georgian Orthodox Church. It rejected comparisons with Russian legislation.

The Kremlin has said it had no involvement whatsoever in the Georgian bill and rejected suggestions that it was Russian-inspired. On Friday it accused the US of stoking anti-Russian sentiment among thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets in Georgia this week.

“We see where the president of Georgia is addressing her people from. She is not making an address from Georgia, she is making an address from America,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, accusing “someone’s visible hand” of stoking “anti-Russian” sentiment.

The proposals were widely criticised abroad, with EU officials calling them incompatible with Georgia’s ambition to join the bloc.

The governing party has insisted it remains committed to Georgia’s EU and NATO membership bid, enshrined in the constitution and supported, according to opinion polls, by 80 percent of the population.

Georgia applied for EU membership together with Ukraine and Moldova days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Georgian Dream lawmakers said the bill was based on the US’s own Foreign Agents Registration Act, which primarily covers lobbyists working directly for foreign governments.

Washington has rejected the comparison.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies