Georgia: Withdraw the Russia-style “Foreign Agent” bill

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) condemns Georgia’s ruling party, Georgia Dream, for its renewed efforts to adopt a Russia-style foreign agent law that would marginalise and discredit foreign-funded groups and threaten the independent operation of civil society.

The Georgian government should permanently withdraw plans to reintroduce the legislation known as the “Transparency of Foreign Influence.”

Georgia’s ruling party announced they were bringing the draft law back on 3 April, almost a year after being forced to drop it amidst international criticism and mass street protests in Tbilisi. The government promised not to revive the draft at the time. This new move breaks the promises made last year by the ruling party. While all other sections of the draft law remain unchanged, under its latest version, organisations, including NGOs, media, and journalists, would have to register as an “organisation pursuing the interests of a foreign power” instead of an “agent of foreign influence”.

If adopted, the bill would cause civil society groups to face additional control, sanctions, investigations, and fines when they receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources. They must register and openly state that they are “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” Organisations failing to do so could face hefty penalties. 

– We are gravely concerned that the legislation, which mirrors a similar foreign agent law in Russia, would severely restrict the independent activity of civil society groups. It will push Georgia toward authoritarianism and backslide the country’s declared ambition of securing a democratic, European future, said Berit Lindeman, Secretary General. 

Authorities claim the laws promote transparency of Georgia’s civil society groups’ funding. However, the country’s human rights watchdogs believe that the legislation, inspired by authoritarian laws in neighbouring Russia to crush dissent, will be a powerful tool to control and punish critical voices that are outspoken on injustice and human rights violations in Georgia.

Local and international rights groups have condemned the draft, which has strained relations with the European Union and the United States. The EU, which gave Georgia candidate status last December, has said the move is incompatible with the bloc’s values and raises serious concerns. If adopted, the current bill would likely jeopardise the country’s prospects of joining the EU.

Despite the mass public protests in central Tbilisi, today the Georgian Parliament approved the bill in first reading.

  We stand in solidarity with Georgia’s civil society organisations and repeat our call to the authorities to refrain from adopting the proposed legislation, which runs counter to Georgia’s human rights obligations and complicates the EU membership path, Lindeman said. 

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Berit Lindeman

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