by Higerta Gjergji

On 1 May 2024, the Parliament of Georgia passed the second reading of the bill on “foreign influence”, a controversial measure that sparked protests and criticism from the opposition, civil society and international opinion. The bill, which was compared to a similar law in force in Russia, was passed by 83 votes to 23.

The law requires media and NGOs to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad. This measure is seen by many as an attempt to stifle dissent and limit the activity of organizations critical of the government.

Protests against the law have been going on for weeks, with dozens of people arrested the night before the vote and mass demonstrations in the capital, Tbilisi. The protesters assert that the Georgian government aims to imitate Russia’s repressive tactics by utilizing the law to stigmatize and isolate independent media and organizations that are critical of the government. Thousands of people took to the streets for almost a month, with the crowd reaching its peak with tens of thousands of people blocking downtown Tbilisi on May 1. The protests became violent, with clashes between protesters and police leading to the arrest of several people.

 Last year, the Georgian government was forced to withdraw a similar proposal following strong protests. The Sogno party said in a statement that it had changed the text of the law following protests. According to the new version of the legislation, NGOs, the media and journalists should register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” instead of as “an agent of foreign influence (…) all other sections of the bill remain unchanged”. The bill will now move to a third vote in Parliament. The ruling party, Sogno, has stated that it wants to make the proposal into law by mid-May.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili strongly opposed the bill, threatening to veto it if approved by Parliament. However, the ruling party has a sufficient majority to repeal a presidential veto and still pass the law.The protests have attracted the attention of the international community. The European Union has given Georgia candidate status, but warned that the adoption of the bill could jeopardise its aspirations for European integration. The adoption of the law on foreign agents could be a step backwards for freedom of expression in Georgia.

On the cover photo, Tbilisi pinned on a map of Georgia ©Dmitrijs Kaminskis/