The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization in Georgia, the “Human Rights Center” (HRC), are alarmed by excessive police violence against peaceful protesters who came out to oppose a draft Russia-inspired “Foreign Agents” law.
The Federation reminds the Georgian authorities of their obligation to respect and protect human rights, urges them to exercise restraint with respect to protesters and to withdraw the draft bill, which undermines human rights and Georgia’s EU integration.
Paris – Tbilisi. 8 March 2023. Tens of thousands of people came out to protest against the draft “foreign agents” law in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, yesterday, following its expedited adoption in the first reading by Georgia’s Parliament.
Crowds gathered following the announcement by the Parliament that the law had been adopted in its current form despite numerous concerns raised by opposition politicians and NGOs that it would severely threaten rights to freedom of association and expression in the country, and in light of the rushed parliamentary debate to force the first reading, which was originally scheduled for March 9. Police used water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the predominantly peaceful protests, causing burns from irritants and other injuries and resulting in over 60 arrests.
“Georgian people sense that their civil and political rights are being stolen by the authorities with this new bill, which resembles the Russian prototype,” remarks Ucha Nanuashvili, HRC Founder and former Ombudsperson of Georgia who suffered injuries during the protests. “Public expression of disapproval of repressive policies is a form of political speech protected by domestic and international law. The use of force against peaceful protesters constitutes unjustified interference with this right.”
Under the draft law, any media outlets and civil society organizations receiving over 20% of their income from foreign sources would have to register and label themselves as “agents of foreign influence”. The law would also impose burdensome reporting requirements on NGOs and media outlets and expose them to increased inspections by the government, regardless of whether they receive foreign funding. These requirements are very similar to those imposed by the early iterations of the Russian legislation, which has been found to violate freedoms of expression and association by the European Court of Human Rights.
“If adopted, the Law would constitute the most serious rollback in the rule of law and human rights in Georgia in the last decade” declared Ilya Nuzov, Head of FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk. “It would thus severely undermine Georgia’s alignment with the EU values, threatening to derail the country’s plans for eventual EU integration.”
Government-aligned and member of the parliamentary majority People’s Power movement submitted the draft Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence to the Parliament of Georgia on February 14, 2023. Initiators of the bill arguethese provisions respond to Georgian citizens’ need to “distinguish cases of positive and non-positive [political] influence” on the country, for them to “form their own political and social views”. Yet, undue restrictions on the right to freedom of association foreseen in this bill would have a direct impact on free public debate in Georgia were it to be passed, as it would be used to stifle media outlets and NGOs critical of the government.