Public Defender’s Office Slams Draft Law on Foreign Agents

The Georgian Public Defender’s Office has slammed the draft law on foreign agents drafted by the “People’s Power” faction, saying that it “does not comply with international and domestic national human rights standards and is incompatible with the basic principles of a modern democratic state.”

In a statement released on February 17, the Public Defender’s Office noted that the freedom of association and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia is “a necessary prerequisite for the existence of a democratic society, which allows non-governmental and media organizations to jointly contribute to the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and realization of human rights.”

According to the same statement, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders “grants such associations the right of such associations to seek, (including to receive funding from foreign sources) for the purpose of carrying out their activities.” “At the same time, States have an obligation to provide a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders can carry out their activities without hindrance or insecurity,” it says.

The Public Defender’s Office stressed that similar provisions in the legislation of the Russian Federation and Hungary concerning the freedom of association and expression, as well as the right to privacy, have been criticized by the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Venice Commission and the UN Special Rapporteur.

“In particular, according to the assessment of the OSCE/Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Office, stigmatization and smear campaigns appear to be contributing to a broader pattern of delegitimization of human rights defenders, including through the adoption of legislation designating them as “foreign agents”,” the statement said.

The Public Defender’s Office also stated, based on the assessments of international organizations, that defining organizations as “foreign agents” creates “an atmosphere of mistrust, fear and hostility towards them”, “stigmatizes civil society, damages their reputation and seriously hinders their activities”.

The Public Defender’s Office stressed that the draft law creates the basis for the collection and publication of a large amount of personal data on persons considered to be “agents of foreign influence.”

“In addition to potentially imposing an unjustified organizational burden on organizations and distracting them from their core activities, it may violate the right to privacy by creating the possibility of processing and disclosing the personal data on any individual who has any form of employment or service contract with these organizations,” the statement said.

The Public Defender’s Office also noted that it is important to ensure the transparency of the activities of associations, but that in order for the interference with rights to be considered justified, “the restrictive means and accompanying procedures must not be disproportionate, which is not the case with the proposed bill”.

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