Georgia Adopts 'Russian Law': Public Discontent and Fight in Parliament

Georgia's parliament passed the third and final reading on Tuesday of a draft law that sparked weeks of mass protests and widespread discontent among residents who claim the law is returning them to the Soviet Union

by Sededin Dedovic
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Georgia Adopts 'Russian Law': Public Discontent and Fight in Parliament
© Sean Gallup / getty Images

The Georgian Parliament began the third and final reading of a law on Tuesday that has sparked divisions and mass protests, with critics seeing it as a threat to democratic freedoms and the country's aspirations to join the European Union.

The law would require media outlets, non-governmental organizations, and other nonprofit organizations to register as "foreign agents" if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad. According to reports from the Toronto Star, citing the Associated Press, a large number of demonstrators gathered on Tuesday morning outside the parliament amid a heavy police presence to once again protest against the law, while lawmakers debated it ahead of the vote.

Over the weekend, thousands of people took to the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, with many remaining outside the parliament until Monday morning. The opposition condemns the draft as a "Russian law," as Moscow employs a similar law to target independent media, nonprofit organizations, and activists critical of the Kremlin.

The proposed law is nearly identical to one that the ruling Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year following street protests. Renewed demonstrations rocked Georgia, with protesters clashing with police who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.

The government argues that the proposed law is necessary to curb what they perceive as harmful foreign influence on the country's politics and to prevent unspecified foreign actors from attempting to destabilize it. Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, increasingly at odds with the ruling party, has promised to veto the law, but Georgian Dream has a sufficient majority to override a presidential veto.

The parliament adopted the second reading of the law earlier this month following protests that brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets. European Council President Charles Michel spoke about Georgia in Copenhagen at a democracy conference on Tuesday, saying that "if they want to join the EU, they must respect basic principles of the rule of law and democratic principles."

People gather during a protest against the foreign agents law as two Americans and one Russian citizen are among 20 detained on © Daro Sulakauri / Getty Images

A scuffle broke out in parliament as lawmakers debated the law on Tuesday.

Georgian Dream lawmaker Dimitri Samkharadze was seen attacking Levan Iosava, the leader of the main opposition party, the United National Movement, after Iosava accused him of organizing mobs to beat opposition supporters.

In recent days, several protesters and opposition figures have been assaulted. The opposition has linked the incidents to the mass protests that have swept through the South Caucasus country with a population of 3.7 million.

During heated debates, lawmakers from the ruling party and the opposition clashed and exchanged blows, footage aired by Georgia's public television showed. Meanwhile, a crowd of around 2,000 demonstrators, mostly students refusing to attend classes, gathered outside, announcing a new evening rally.

The Georgian Parliament passed the draft law in its third and final reading on Tuesday, sparking weekly mass protests. The proposed law requires media outlets, non-governmental organizations, and other nonprofit organizations to register as "foreign agents" if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

Critics see this as a threat to democratic freedoms and the country's aspirations to join the European Union. The proposed law is nearly identical to one that the ruling Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year following street protests.

Despite weeks of renewed demonstrations shaking Georgia, lawmakers still adopted it. As reported by NBC News, the opposition condemns the draft as a "Russian law," as Moscow uses a similar law to target independent media, nonprofit organizations, and activists critical of the Kremlin.

The government argues that the proposed law is necessary to curb what they perceive as harmful foreign influence on the country's politics and to prevent unspecified foreign actors from attempting to destabilize it. Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, increasingly at odds with the ruling party, has promised to veto the law, but Georgian Dream has a sufficient majority to override a presidential veto.

European Council President Charles Michel spoke about Georgia in Copenhagen at a democracy conference on Tuesday, saying that "if they want to join the EU, they must respect basic principles of the rule of law and democratic principles." In Tbilisi, mass protests have been held for three consecutive nights over this law, reflecting repressive laws introduced in Russia and condemned by the European Union and the United States.

As reported by the Harriet Daily News, tens of thousands of people have protested in the former Soviet republic since the Georgian Dream party reintroduced the draft law over a month ago. This law worsened the already tense situation in this country, which is struggling with Russian influence.

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