Foreign agents bill withdrawn from Georgian parliament

Foreign agents bill withdrawn from Georgian parliament
Thousands of demonstrators came out in Tbilisi to protest against a Russian inspired law to label foreign-funded NGOs as "foreign agents". / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews March 9, 2023

The ruling Georgian Dream Party has withdrawn the controversial "foreign agents" bill from the Georgian parliament that had sparked two days of mass protests in Tbilisi, the state television channel Imedi reported on the morning of March 9.

According to the ruling party's statement broadcast on television, it has decided to withdraw the bill "unconditionally" due to the public backlash.

"We see that the adopted draft law has caused differences of opinion in society. The machine of lies was able to present the bill in a negative light and mislead a certain part of the public. The false label of 'Russian law' was attached to the draft law, and its adoption in the first reading was presented as a departure from the European course in the eyes of a part of the public," read the statement. 

Georgian Dream claimed that "radical forces" had pulled young Georgians into rising up against the government. It also thanked law enforcement officials for responding to protests "with patience". 

"Georgia will maintain peace and stability and continue moving towards Europe with dignity, which is the principled choice of the Georgian society," concluded the statement.

The announcement follows days off mass demonstrations in the centre of Tbilisi, where police used water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and flash grenades to disperse crowds of protesters in front of parliament. Protests broke out after the the bill was passed in its first reading on March 7.

The opposition accused Georgian Dream of promoting the law at the Kremlin’s behest to keep Georgia out of the Western sphere of influence. 

Although Georgian Dream withdrew the bill, they plan to continue their initiative and explain to the public why it was introduced and the importance of transparency on foreign influence in Georgia's domestic politics. 

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had said that the foreign agents bill, if adopted, would be an unfavourable development for Georgia and its people, and will run counter to Tbilisi’s EU membership aspirations. 

The United States embassy called the bill's approval in the first of three readings a “dark day,” earlier this week. The US also threatened the authors of the bill with sanctions.

While on an official visit in the United States, Georgian President Zurabishvili – who is not a member of Georgian Dream – told CNN that the bill “looks very much like Russian politics”.

“This is a law out of nowhere, there is no need for it. It is contrary to the principles of the EU. Nobody asked to take it. This is very similar to Russian policy – to respond with an attempt to suppress the protest against the peaceful expression of the will of the people,” she said. 

Zurabishvili had promised to veto the bill.