Georgia’s parliament passes controversial “foreign agent” law amid protests, widespread criticism

Georgia’s parliament has passed a law that critics see as a threat to media freedom and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union – and a step toward the kind of draconian laws that have quashed political dissent in neighboring Russia. 

In backing the so-called “foreign agent” law, Georgia’s parliamentarians defied weeks of large demonstrations in the capital against the legislation, which also saw thousands of people vent their anger at Russia.

Tens of thousands of protesters shut down a major intersection in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Tuesday, Reuters reported, and protests again on Wednesday gathered outside the parliament. 

The law will be sent to the president before it can go into effect, and President Salome Zourabichvili – increasingly at odds with the governing party – has vowed to veto it, but the ruling Georgian Dream party has a majority sufficient to override his veto.
Below is a look at the divisive law and why there’s so much angst about it.

What does the “foreign agent” law do?

The law would require media, nongovernmental organizations and other nonprofits to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of funding from abroad.

The law is nearly identical to the one that the governing Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after similar protests. This version passed its third and final reading in parliament on Tuesday.

The governing party says the law is necessary to stem what it deems as harmful foreign influence over Georgia’s political scene and prevent unidentified foreign actors from trying to destabilize it.

The opposition denounces it as “the Russian law” because Moscow uses similar legislation to stigmatize independent news media and organizations critical of the Kremlin. Opposition lawmakers have accused the governing party of trying to drag Georgia into Russia’s sphere of influence.

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