Protesters in Tbilisi Block Freedom Square, Paralyze Traffic Over Foreign Agents Law

Protesters in Georgia block Freedom Square, opposing a proposed "foreign agents" law seen as a threat to civil society and EU integration. International condemnation as the law mirrors Russian legislation restricting independent voices.

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Mazhar Abbas
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Protesters in Tbilisi Block Freedom Square, Paralyze Traffic Over Foreign Agents Law

Protesters in Tbilisi Block Freedom Square, Paralyze Traffic Over Foreign Agents Law

Protesters in Tbilisi, Georgia have blocked Freedom Square and paralyzed traffic in opposition to a proposed law foreign agents law. The controversial bill, backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, would require organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as foreign agents. Critics argue that the law mirrors Russian legislation that has restricted the work of independent journalists and democratic institutions.

The European Union's ambassador to Georgia has criticized the reintroduction of the bill, stating that it is incompatible with European norms and values. The U.S. Embassy and the EU have condemned the law, calling it an attack on civil society and a threat to Georgia's democratic development and European integration aspirations. Polls show that 79% of Georgians support their country's EU membership ambitions, and the draft law is seen as going against the wishes of the majority of the country's citizens.

Why this matters: The proposed foreign agents law in Georgia has sparked widespread protests and international condemnation, as it is seen as a threat to civil society and democratic values. The outcome of this controversy could have significant implications for Georgia's future relations with the EU and its aspirations for European integration.

Protesters have been gathering daily outside the parliament, chanting "No to the Russian law!" and calling on the government to abandon the bill. Riot police have used pepper spray, water cannons, and tear gas to disperse the peaceful demonstrations, resulting in dozens of protesters being injured. President Salome Zurabishvili has said she would veto the bill, although parliament can override her veto.

Despite the widespread opposition, the parliament passed the foreign agents law in the first reading on April 17. The ruling party argues that the law is necessary to address the non-transparent operations of Georgian NGOs, but the opposition and civil society believe it is an attempt to suppress alternative voices ahead of the 2024 elections.

The ruling Georgian Dream party has stated that they will abandon or repeal the law once Georgia receives an offer to join the European Union. Party leader Irakli Garibashvili said that if Georgia's EU membership bid is approved, the law could be "easily" repealed, revised, or amended. However, he also noted that the adoption of the bill would not affect the pace of Georgia's EU accession, as the EU is "not prepared for expansion at the moment.

The protests in Tbilisi continue, with demonstrators demanding the complete withdrawal of the foreign agents law. As one protester stated, "We will not stop until this Russian-inspired law is completely abandoned. Our freedom and our future with Europe are at stake." The international community remains concerned about the potential impact of the law on Georgia's democratic progress and its relations with Western partners.

Key Takeaways

  • Protesters in Georgia oppose proposed "foreign agents" law, seeing it as threat to civil society.
  • EU, US condemn the law as incompatible with European values and a risk to Georgia's democracy.
  • Ruling party says law will be repealed if Georgia's EU membership bid is approved, but EU is not ready.
  • Protesters demand complete withdrawal of the law, which they see as Russian-inspired and a risk to freedom.
  • Outcome of the controversy could have significant implications for Georgia's EU integration aspirations.