• World
  • georgia

Georgia Approves Controversial ‘Foreign Agents’ Bill That Sparked Weeks of Mass Protests

3 minute read
By

TBILISI, Georgia — The Georgian parliament on Tuesday approved in the third and final reading a divisive bill that sparked weeks of mass protests.

The bill requires media and nongovernmental organizations and other nonprofits to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

Critics see it as a threat to democratic freedoms and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union. The bill is nearly identical to one that the governing Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after street protests. Renewed demonstrations have rocked Georgia for weeks, but the lawmakers passed it regardless.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgia’s parliament on Tuesday began the third and final reading of a divisive bill that sparked weeks of mass protests, with critics seeing it as a threat to democratic freedoms and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union.

The bill would require media and nongovernmental organizations and other nonprofits to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

A large crowd of demonstrators gathered on Tuesday morning in front of the parliament, amid a heavy presence of riot police, to protest the bill once again, as lawmakers were discussing it in the lead-up to a vote. Over the weekend, thousands poured into the streets of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, and many stayed in front of the parliament until Monday morning.

The opposition denounces the bill as “the Russian law,” because Moscow uses similar legislation to crack down on independent news media, nonprofits and activists critical of the Kremlin.

Read More: Why the Russian Exodus To Georgia Is So Polarizing

The bill is nearly identical to one that the governing Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after street protests. Renewed demonstrations have rocked Georgia for weeks, with demonstrators scuffling with police, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.

The government says the bill is necessary to stem what it deems as harmful foreign influence over the country’s politics and to prevent unspecified foreign actors from trying to destabilize it.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who is increasingly at odds with the governing party, has vowed to veto the law, but Georgian Dream has a majority sufficient to override a presidential veto.

The legislature approved a second reading of the bill earlier this month, after protests that drew tens of thousands of people.

European Council President Charles Michel on Tuesday spoke of Georgia in Copenhagen at a conference on democracy, and said that “if they want to join the EU, they have to respect the fundamental principles of the rule of law and the democratic principles.”

A brawl erupted in the parliament as lawmakers were debating the bill on Tuesday. Georgian Dream MP Dimitry Samkharadze was seen charging toward Levan Khabeishvili, the chairman of main opposition party United National Movement, after Khabeishvili accused him of organizing mobs to beat up opposition supporters.

In recent days, several protesters and opposition members have been beaten up. The opposition linked the incidents to mass protests that have swept the South Caucasus nation of 3.7 million.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com