Demonstrators protest a bill on "foreign agents" near the Georgian Parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, on May 13, 2024. (Photo: Reuters/Irakli Gedenidze)
Demonstrators protest a bill on 'foreign agents' near the Georgian Parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, on May 13, 2024. (Photo: Reuters/Irakli Gedenidze)

Georgian parliament passes ‘foreign agent’ law despite widespread opposition

Stockholm, May 14, 2024 — The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled that as thousands of protesters waited for the results amid a heavy police presence equipped with water cannons and riot gear, the Georgian parliament voted Tuesday to adopt the controversial Russian-style “foreign agents” law that would target foreign-funded media.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili said she would veto the bill, but the ruling party controls a large enough majority to override her.

“The passage of ‘foreign agent’ legislation by the ruling Georgian Dream party, despite significant public opposition, is set to stifle media freedom in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections in October,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Georgian authorities should not advance the Russia-style bill any further unless they want to throw the country off the path to the European Union and into the Kremlin’s embrace. European and international leaders must convey to the Georgian government that the country cannot move forward in its EU aspirations if the law goes into force.”

The law — reintroduced by the ruling party in April following widespread protests that led to its withdrawal last year — would require nonprofits and media outlets receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “organizations pursuing the interests of a foreign power” and submit detailed annual financial accounts. Authorities would be granted as-yet unspecified powers to monitor their activities.

Organizations that fail to register or to provide required data would be subject to fines of 25,000 lari (US$9,500) and monthly fines of 20,000 lari ($7,500) for continued non-compliance.

In a speech on April 29, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder and honorary chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party and a billionaire who is alleged to maintain close business and political ties with Russia, attacked the West and promised legal reprisals and “punishment” against opponents if the party wins the October elections.

Amid renewed mass protests of the proposed law in recent weeks, CPJ documented police violence against multiple media workers and a coordinated intimidation campaign targeting dozens of government-critical journalists.

On May 10, CPJ and 17 partner organizations sent a letter to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze urging him to withdraw the draft law and guarantee journalist safety.

In April, Kyrgyzstan enacted similar foreign agent legislation.