Georgian foreign agents law to be sent to Venice Commission for review

Georgian foreign agents law to be sent to Venice Commission for review
Georgian Dream Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has defended the foreign agents bill. / bne IntelliNews
By Mack Tubridy in Tbilisi March 1, 2023
Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party has announced that it will send two different versions of a controversial foreign agents bill to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for review. 
The ruling party said that the bills in their current forms will be adopted in the first reading by parliament. The final decision to pass one or the other in the second and third readings will be taken after considering the Venice Commission’s opinion.
Both of the foreign agents bill were introduced into parliament by the anti-Western People’s Power faction that was created last year by several former members of Georgia Dream. Many believe that People’s Power acts as a proxy for the ruling party.
The first version of the bill submitted earlier in February proposes the creation of a government register of organisations and media that receive more than 20% of their financing from abroad. Failure to register as a foreign agent would result in hefty fines.
The alternative version extends the registration requirement from organisations to individuals and increases the penalties for the failure to register from fines to five years in prison. Some believe this new version of the bill was introduced as a smokescreen to make the first bill more palatable in the eyes of the public.
Georgian Dream chairman Irakli Kobakhidze on February 27 said that the Venice Commission may give “certain remarks on details or recommendations”, but added “we will definitely adopt one or the other draft. Until then, we will wait for the Venice Commission’s opinion”.
Kobakhidze said that the ruling party would only consider technical aspects of potential Venice Commission criticisms of the foreign agents bill.
“No one can say that transparency is not good,” he said.
The opposition was quick to criticise the decision to send the bills to the Venice Commission.
Khatia Dekanoidze of the United National Movement described the move as “an attempt at diverting attention”.
Dekanoidze said that both versions of the foreign agents bill are “Russian laws” and their adoption will derail Georgia’s integration with the EU. 
Aleko Elisashvili of the Citizens party said he was surprised that Georgia Dream is sending the bill to the Venice Commission.
“It would be better to send it to Russia’s State Duma and the Federation Council… it’s essentially a Russian law,” said Elisashvili.
Earlier, more than 60 Georgian media organisations signed a joint statement in protest against the foreign agents bill, which they say bears similarities to legislation enacted in Russia several years ago, and which has been used to crack down on political dissent and muzzle independent media.

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