Georgians Protests in Capital Against Authoritarian Foreign Agent Bill

Thousands marched through the Georgian capital of Tbilisi last weekend to protest against a “foreign agents” bill that the opposition party and Western leaders have said was a Russian-inspired authoritarian measure.

The protests first began in mid-April after lawmakers in Georgia’s parliament debated a draft bill from the ruling Georgian Dream party to require the media and non-commercial groups to register as foreign agents if they receive 20 percent or more of their funding from outside of the country.

The parliament held a second reading of the bill on April 30 as civil society groups and opposition party members called for mass protests.

Protesters fear that the law would result in non-government organizations and media outlets shutting down and have accused the government of caving to the demands of Moscow. Opponents of the measure labeled the bill “the Russian law,” claiming that it was similar to a law used in Russia to silence dissent.

The European Union also warned Georgia that the bill could delay or halt the country’s integration into the EU. Georgia received candidate status in the EU last December.

Parliamentary debate over the legislation last month quickly devolved into scuffles, with Georgia Dream leader Mamuka Mdinaradze getting punched in the face by an opposition party member. Several other members of parliament joined in the scuffle, with lawmakers wrestling each other and brawling in the chamber.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has already said she would veto the law if it passed. However, with her term ending soon and the country’s electoral college including members of parliament, the next president could approve the legislation.

For more than a week, thousands of protesters have been protesting outside of parliament nightly. By Sunday, thousands of student protesters blocked the central avenue in the capital as riot police were called in.

The government on Monday called for a counter-demonstration in support of the bill.