Protests Swell in Georgia Over ‘Foreign Interests’ Bill

Security forces clashed with protesters in Georgia’s capital on Wednesday night after the Eastern European nation’s Parliament advanced controversial new legislation that has ignited weeks of demonstrations.

Since the governing party, Georgian Dream, pushed a bill through Parliament early last month that the pro-Western opposition believes could be used to crack down on dissent and hamper the country’s efforts to join the European Union, protesters have taken to the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, night after night.

Their numbers swelled on Wednesday after Parliament approved the bill in the second of three required votes.

A demonstrator raised her arms near a line of riot police officers on Tuesday. The protests have taken place night after night.Credit…Zurab Tsertsvadze/Associated Press
A protester trying to climb over the gate outside the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi on Wednesday night.Credit…David Mdzinarishvili/EPA, via Shutterstock
Riot police officers kicked a shirtless demonstrator in front of a line of photographers and camera operators.Credit…David Mdzinarishvili/EPA, via Shutterstock

The draft law would require nongovernmental groups and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to register as organizations “carrying the interests of a foreign power” and provide annual financial statements about their activities. Violations would incur hefty fines.

It resembles a 2012 law in Russia that has been used to stifle anti-Kremlin advocacy groups and media organizations. Critics say that one aim of the new bill, which they call “the Russian law,” is to align Georgia, a former Soviet country of 3.6 million, more closely with Moscow.

Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said on Thursday that security forces had used water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray when the protesters turned “violent.” Citing the Ministry of Health, the Georgian Public Broadcaster said that 15 people had been hospitalized from the protests over the past two days, including members of law enforcement.

Protesters struck down barriers near the Georgian Parliament.Credit…Giorgi Arjevanidze/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A protester holding up a Georgian flag.Credit…Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters
The crowds of protesters have swelled as the governing party has advanced the legislation through Parliament.Credit…Giorgi Arjevanidze/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

European and United States officials have criticized the draft legislation, saying that it renews questions about democracy in Georgia and the country’s commitment to join the European Union.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, expressed “great concern” over the situation on Wednesday and condemned the violence on the streets of Tbilisi.

“The Georgian people want a European future for their country,” she wrote on X. “Georgia is at a crossroads. It should stay the course on the road to Europe.”

Helping an injured demonstrator during the protest.Credit…Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters
Law enforcement officers scuffling with protesters.Credit…Giorgi Arjevanidze/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A demonstrator makes a heart-shaped gesture while standing in front of a line of riot police officers.Credit…Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters

The government — which has been led by Georgian Dream since 2012 — says the bill is aimed at making foreign funding more transparent and was modeled on an American law dating to 1938 and other similar measures passed or proposed by other Western countries.

It tried to pass the law last year but backed down in the face of large-scale protests. This time, the party appears determined to push it through Parliament, even though legislators will most likely have to override a veto by the country’s president, Salome Zourabichvili.

Ms. Zourabichvili, whose duties are largely ceremonial in Georgia’s parliamentary system, was endorsed by Georgian Dream when she was elected in 2018, but she has since become a fierce critic of the governing party.

Marika Kochiashvili contributed reporting.

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