Hundreds of Georgian NGOs pledge to defy ‘foreign influence’ law

The NGOs say they’re ready to pay penalties under ‘the Russian law … which nobody will obey’.

Demonstrators hold a rally in Tbilisi to protest against a bill on 'foreign agents' [File: Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters]

Hundreds of NGOs in Georgia have decided to defy the country’s controversial “foreign influence” law.

In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, some 200 nongovernmental organisations declared that they will not obey the legislation, which has been criticised for mirroring Russian laws used to clamp down on dissent and threatening Georgia’s ambitions of joining the European Union.

The statement came a day after the country’s parliament overrode a presidential veto of the law, the passage of which has prompted weeks of massive protests. Opponents worry that, apart from limiting the work of NGOs, the legislation will restrict media freedom and obstruct Georgia’s chances of joining the EU.

The law requires media, NGOs and other nonprofit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

Tbilisi protest
A demonstrator reacts after Georgia’s Parliament voted to override a presidential veto of the ‘foreign influence’ law [File: Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters]

“The Russian law will not work in our country! It will remain a piece of paper, which nobody will obey,” the NGOs said in the statement.

They claimed that, by adopting the law on orders from Moscow, the Georgian authorities “knowingly created a threat to the economy, international reputation, civil order and peace of our country”.

“Our protest and struggle will continue until this law is repealed!” the statement continued.

The government says the law is needed to stem the harm from what it deems foreign actors trying to destabilise the South Caucasus nation of 3.7 million.

Many Georgian journalists and activists argue that its true goal is to stigmatise them and restrict debate ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

“[The] Russian law endangers the monitoring of elections,” the statement read. “But we, Georgia’s civil organisations, promise to defend the elections and the votes of every single citizen.”

The NGOs said they planned to help anyone affected by the law by paying the fines and providing lawyers for those arrested.

Failure to register by those required to do so will result in an initial fine of 25,000 laris (nearly $9,230).

The authorities will also register the organisation without seeking its agreement. That registration will require the filing of a financial declaration. Failure to do so will lead to a penalty of 10,000 laris ($3,690).

Any continued “disobedience” found during a check the following month will trigger a fine of 20,000 laris ($7,380). This penalty can then be repeated every month.

“Our lawyers will fight in domestic and international courts. We will collect money to pay each other the fines imposed on us for the love of Georgia and the fight for freedom,” the NGOs said in their statement.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies