Georgian Dream announced support for foreign agent law
A bill that would label media and civil society organisations that receive money from abroad “agents of foreign influence” is to be submitted to the Georgian Parliament, leading to fears of a crackdown similar to that in Russia, writes OC Media. The bill was submitted by People’s Power, a group of pro-government MPs who formally left the ruling Georgian Dream party. Announcing the move, the group stated that the draft was based on “the principles of openness and transparency”.
A copy of the draft law obtained by OC Media reveals that it would affect any broadcaster, newspaper, or Georgian-language online media platform operating in the country, as well as any organisation registered in Georgia as a non-governmental organisation. Any such organisation which received over 20% of its income from a “foreign power” would be forced to register on a “Foreign Influence Agents Registry “, or face fines of up to ₾25,000 ($9,400).
The draft immediately caused a backlash from part of local society and the political elite. On February 20 group of Georgian journalists protested the law’s registration in Parliament while President Salome Zurabishvili suggested that she might veto the legislation. The gathered journalists held signs and banners inscribed with “No to Putin’s law”, “You can’t silence us”, and “Russian law is not Georgia’s choice”, in reference to fears that the legislation was modelled on Russia’s foreign agent law.
Georgia’s Public Defender’s office stated that the law did not comply with international or domestic human rights standards, describing it as “incompatible with the basic principles of a modern democratic state”.
Speaking to OC Media, German MEP Viola von Cramon warned that the legislation contributed to the “building of Putin-type rule in Georgia”. “We see […] how the Russian brand of governing a country is systematically implemented in Georgia while the country is straying away from the path of EU integration. This goes against the will of the people of Georgia.” “The ruling party and their proxies are fully invested in smearing the EU and are borrowing tricks from Putin’s, Lukashenko’s, and Orban’s playbook”, said von Cramon.
On February 16, the US State Department joined in warning that “such a law could potentially undermine Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration”, and that the law would threaten freedom of speech and democracy in Georgia. “These statements that the Georgian draft law is based on FARA – these statements are patently false,” US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a February 15 press briefing, expressing “deep concerns” about the bill that he said “would stigmatise and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia.”
Meanwhile, the ruling party defends the bill. On February 21, Mamuka Mdinaradze, the Executive Secretary of the Georgian Dream party, said the ruling team would support the legislation. Mdinaradze stressed that the proposed bill was not analogous to the Russian and American laws on foreign influence and claimed the contrast was demonstrated by “a lot of restrictions” in the foreign examples. According to Irakli Kobakhidze, the head of the ruling party, the draft is in “full accordance” with human rights standards “unlike its American and Russian analogues”.