Georgians protest government's renewed attempt to pass 'Russian law'

Georgians protest government's renewed attempt to pass 'Russian law'
Georgians protest government's renewed attempt to pass 'Russian law'

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - TBLISI — Thousands of Georgians have protested in their country's capital over government efforts to pass a law that imitates repressive policy enacted by the Kremlin.

Georgian Dream, the governing party, sent parliament a new draft of the legislation, which was previously withdrawn after a public outcry.

The law calls for media and non-commercial organizations to register as being under foreign influence if they receive more than 20% of their budget from abroad.

It is identical to a proposal Georgian Dream was pressured to withdraw a year ago following large street protests.

The only change is the recasting of the phrase “agents of foreign influence” as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power”.

Opponents of the measure denounce it as “the Russian law” because it is similar to a law that Russia uses to stigmatize independent news media and organizations seen as being at odds with the Kremlin.

Georgian Dream is often criticized as concerningly open to Russia, though there is a long-running debate over whether this characterization is justified.

But the country's president, Salome Zourabichvili, warned at the latest protest the bill represents a choice between "independence or enslavement, that of Europe and Russia".

If passed, Brussels has cautioned the "foreign influence" law would be a major blow against Georgia's EU candidate status – something the Georgian population widely supports.

The European External Action Service, the EU's leading foreign policy arm, said last week that reintroducing the bill raises "serious concerns.”

"The EU recalls that the European Council granted Georgia candidate status on the understanding that the relevant steps set out in the Commission’s recommendation of 8 November 2023 are taken," the service warned in a statement.

"Step 9 includes a recommendation for Georgia to ensure civil society can operate freely, and Step 1 calls on Georgia to fight disinformation against the EU and its values.

"Transparency should not be used as an instrument to limit civil society’s capacity to operate freely."

Russia has long tried to exercise influence in Georgia, one of several bordering countries that the Putin government views as within its supposed legitimate sphere of influence.

In 2008, Russia invaded two breakaway Georgian regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in a move that previewed its assault on eastern Ukraine in 2014. There have been no formal diplomatic relations between Tbilisi and Moscow ever since. — Euronews

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