Georgia Parliament Overrides Veto on Foreign Agents Law

Georgian parliamentarians voted to overturn a presidential veto of a controversial “transparency on foreign influence” bill – often called the “foreign agents law” – that has sparked several weeks of protests in the capital, Tbilisi.

Under the legislation, media outlets and non-governmental organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad will have to register as “organizations acting in the interests of a foreign power,” undergo strict audits or face punitive fines.

In a plenary session on Tuesday, the vote was approved with 84 votes in favor, mainly from the ruling Georgian Dream party, against four votes against and the opposition.

the law had It was already approved on May 14, but it was later vetoed by the pro-Western president Salomé Zourabishvili.

The law is expected to take effect within 60 days.

The Georgian government maintains that it will ensure transparency of money flowing to support NGOs and protect Georgia from foreign interference.

But its opponents – who have dubbed it the “Russian law” because of its similarities to an existing law in Russia – believe the real reason for the legislation is to suppress dissent before parliamentary elections in October.

The EU said it “deeply regretted” the Georgian parliament’s decision.

EU officials had previously warned that the bill could jeopardize further progress within the bloc. Georgia was granted candidate country status in December 2023.

Many NGOs have already announced that they will not comply with legislation requiring them to declare that they are “acting in the interests of a foreign power”, saying it is “insulting” and “factually incorrect”.

On Tuesday, as MPs debated the bill, people again gathered outside parliament amid a heavy police presence.

When the result of the vote was announced, many protesters shouted “slaves!” and “Russians!”

Since the protests began, police have repeatedly used force to disperse protesters.

Dozens of opponents of the foreign agent law have reported being beaten or intimidated, with insulting signs posted outside their homes or threatening phone calls.

Still, more than six weeks after the protests began, protesters – many of them young – feel there is no other option but to continue taking to the streets.

“Our whole future is at stake, it’s Europe or nothing,” Kato, 18, said as he stood outside parliament with his friends.

Observers believe that the passage of the foreign agents law has become a battle for the survival of Georgian Dream, which has managed to distance itself from many of its traditional partners in the process.

The United States joined the EU in warning that the law would have consequences. The US State Department said last week that travel restrictions would be imposed on those who “undermine democracy” in Georgia, as well as their family members.

But the authorities ignored the warnings. The general secretary of Georgian Dream, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, stated that there will never be a “compensation” against the country’s interests.

Knowing that she had run out of options to stop the government from passing the bill, on Monday Ms Zourabishvili presented a new letter that she said would be a plan to move Georgia towards Europe.

“To rebuild trust, we need a new political reality: a different unity, different elections, a different parliament and a different government,” he wrote in X.

The letter includes the abolition of laws that it said harmed Georgia’s chances of EU membership, as well as significant reforms designed to depoliticize the judicial system and security services.

Zourabishvili invited all opposition parties to sign the letter before June 1 and attend the parliamentary elections in October together.

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