Politics, Europe

Tens of thousands protest in Tbilisi against Georgia's foreign agents bill

Bill, reintroduced by ruling Georgian Dream party, met with continued opposition, protests

Davit Kachkachishvili  | 12.05.2024 - Update : 12.05.2024
Tens of thousands protest in Tbilisi against Georgia's foreign agents bill

TBILISI, Georgia

Tens of thousands took to the streets in Georgia's capital of Tbilisi on Saturday to protest the government's reintroduction of a "transparency of foreign influence" bill in parliament.

The bill, reintroduced by the ruling Georgian Dream party, has been met with continued opposition that has sparked protests.

Thousands gathered at various points to reiterate demands for the bill to be withdrawn from parliament.

Marching to mark Europe Day, demonstrators converged in Europe Square, carrying Georgian and European Union flags.

Protesters from various regions of the country joined and chanted slogans against the bill.

Due to the large crowd, the intersection of Europe Square and connecting streets were closed to traffic, causing disruptions to some areas as the march progressed.

Several artists performed at the protest.

Critics of the proposed bill have labeled it a "Russian law” and announced plans to reconvene Sunday outside parliament.

Some protesters, however, gathered outside the parliament building and continued to chant anti-bill slogans past midnight.

Protests in Georgia ongoing for about a month

Protests against the "transparency of foreign influence" bill, reintroduced by the government, have been ongoing in Georgia for about a month.

Security forces intervened with tear gas and water cannons in early May against protesters who attempted to surround the parliament building and set up barricades in front of it.

The bill, first introduced in March 2023, was shelved after it triggered mass protests resulting in the arrest of 66 people and injury to more than 50 law enforcement officers.

Bill has passed two approvals

The bill, which passed its first and second readings in parliament on April 17 and May 1, respectively, requires approval three times to become law.

A meeting of the Legal Committee will be held in the coming days for a third vote in parliament.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze emphasized the government's commitment to transparent governance, inviting foreign-funded organizations operating in the country to conduct activities openly and transparently.

Kobakhidze underscored the importance of the bill for the country's security and accused some NGOs of causing tension and instability in Georgia in recent years.

Bill uses definition of "organization serving the interests of a foreign power"

On March 3, Mamuka Mdinaradze, the parliamentary leader of the Georgian Dream party, argued at the party's headquarters in Tbilisi that more than 90% of the funding for NGOs operating in Georgia is not transparent.

Mdinaradze noted that the content of the bill is the same as last year's, with only the use of the term, "organization serving the interests of a foreign power," instead of "foreign influence agent" that was previously included.

Bill caused protests last year

The bill requires organizations, including media outlets, which receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register with the state. It also obliges them to publish annual financial reports.

Opponents, including President Salome Zourabichvili, claimed the bill was drafted at Russia's behest and demanded its cancellation.

As protests escalated, scuffles broke out among MPs in parliament, and demonstrations took place on the streets of Tbilisi.

As protests grew, the Georgian Dream party withdrew the bill, which had received preliminary approval in parliament.

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