February 26. 2024. 6:26

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Protests, fights break out in Georgian parliament over ‘foreign agents’ bill

Protesters on Thursday (2 March) disrupted committee hearings in the Georgian parliament on a controversial “foreign agents” bill backed by the ruling party, which critics have said represents an authoritarian shift in the country.

Footage published by Georgian media also showed physical fights between opposition lawmakers and those from the ruling Georgian Dream party, which announced last month that it would support the bill.

Skirmish in the Georgian parliament during the discussion of controversial draft law on ‘foreign agent’ similar to one in Russia.#Georgia pic.twitter.com/AiPC1kumcC

— sam martirosyan (@sammartirosyan9) March 2, 2023

The draft law would require any organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from overseas to register as “foreign agents”, or face substantial fines. Critics have said it is reminiscent of a 2012 Russian law that has since been used to crack down on civil society.

We urge the members of the Parliament of Georgia to respect the freedom of association and expression in the country and not adopt the proposed "Foreign Agent" law.@GeoDemIn @EqualityGeorgiahttps://t.co/Vi6Nkz6Uhc

— Civil Rights Defenders (@crdefenders) March 1, 2023

In February, more than 60 media outlets and civil society groups said they would not comply with the law if it was passed. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has said she will veto the bill, although parliament can override her veto.

The bill has drawn foreign concern, including from the United States. On Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the bill would have negative implications for freedom of speech and democracy.

“(It) would stigmatize and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia who are dedicated to building a better country for their fellow citizens, for their communities,” Price told reporters.

A contagious bad example?

At the turn of the new millennium, different authoritarian regimes have labeled their political opponents as “foreign agents” , while far-right politicians have tried to label their opponents as such.

Russia adopted its first law on “foreign agents” in 2012. It has since been expanded to include non-profit organisations, media outlets and individual Russian citizens including journalists and activists. Last year the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday (14 June) that Russia’s legislation on “foreign agents” violated the rights of the groups designated.

European court rules Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ law violates rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday (14 June) that Russia’s legislation on “foreign agents” violated the rights of the groups designated as such and ordered Russia to pay many of them compensation.

The EU is not immune to attempts to introduce ‘foreign agents’ legislation.

In 2017, Hungary adopted a law “on the Transparency of Organizations Supported from Abroad”. Even though the term “foreign agent” does not appear in the law, experts see it as a copycat of the Russian legislation.

Hungary was once a democracy: Now it is an ‘Orbanocracy’

If democracy was the buzzword of the first two decades following the end of the Cold War, illiberal democracy appears to be the buzzword of today, writes Daniel Penev.

In Italy, on 14 June 2019, the Italian Parliament approved the “Decree on Urgent Dispositions about Security and Public Order,” proposed by the then Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, which gives a wide power to the Minister of the Interior to restrict or prohibit the entry, transit or stop of NGO ships.

Even if the term “foreign agent” is not used in the law, the NGOs operating in the sea are implicitly presented as foreign agents which are acting against the national interests of Italy, creating emergencies for public order.