Georgia’s parliament on Friday formally revoked a controversial “foreign influence” bill that sparked major protests amid concerns that it resembled Russian laws used to stifle political dissent.
Georgian lawmakers voted against the bill in its second reading by a margin of 35 to one, according to Georgia’s public broadcaster First Channel.
Friday’s vote came a day after the country’s ruling party announced it would scrap the proposed legislation, hours after tens of thousands of people rallied outside the Georgian parliament for a second night of protests. Senior officials in the US and the European Union also expressed concern over the bill.
The controversial legislation would have required organizations receiving 20% or more of their annual income from abroad to register as “foreign agents” or face heavy fines – a proposal that rights experts warned would have a chilling effect on civil society in the country and damage its democracy.
Georgia won its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and has since sought to strike a diplomatic balance between its citizens’ pro-European stance and the geopolitical ambitions of its powerful neighbor, Russia.
Western leaders welcomed Thursday’s decision to shelve the bill, with the European Union’s office in Georgia saying it encouraged lawmakers in the country “to resume pro-EU reforms.” Though Georgia was not granted EU candidacy status after applying for membership in March 2022, the European Council has expressed readiness to grant that status if the country implements certain reforms.
Meanwhile, Moscow said Friday it is closely monitoring so called “provocations” in Georgia with “great concern” after mass protests there forced a the controversial proposed law to be quashed.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Georgia’s decision to withdraw the bill is “fraught with provocations” and denied Russian influence in proposing the Putin-style “foreign agents” bill.
“The situation that served as a trigger for these popular unrest and insurgent manifestations has nothing to do with the Russian Federation,” said Peskov, adding that “Russia has nothing to do with it either in essence or in form. We do not interfere in internal Georgian affairs.”
Peskov instead alleged US interference in Georgian affairs, and claimed Washington was “diligently trying to again add an anti-Russian element to it.”
Protesters outside the Georgian parliament welcomed the withdrawal of the bill, but said they will continue to fight for their country to join the EU in the form of a 12-point plan.
“This is a victory for our people … we were dispersed many times, but we returned with a common European and national idea. The main demand of this protest was to fail this bill, but our aspiration is that Georgia should become a member of the European Union,” said Tamar Jakeli, one of the protest organizers, according to First Channel.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) Associate Director Giorgi Gogia warned earlier that “the fight is likely not over.”
“Ruling party leader just spoke blaming critical media & independent groups for polarization in the country, attempting to discredit them,” Gogia, associate director for HRW’s Europe and Central Asia division, tweeted Friday.
Gogia had said that the proposed legislation was a clear threat to human rights in Georgia.