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The Daily Beat: 17 April

On April 17, the ruling Georgian Dream party passed the controversial Russian-style “Foreign Agents Law” in its first reading with 83 votes in favor and none against, despite strong opposition from international partners and ongoing public protests near the Parliament building. The opposition MPs were absent from the plenary hall during the vote.

Following the passing of the Foreign Agents Law in its first reading, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze held an almost two-hour press conference, defending the bill and slamming CSOs, political opponents, and international partners for their lack of transparency. “This process (adoption of the law) should be brought to an end; it is a matter of honor that we protect the interests of society and the sovereignty of the state, and we should not allow anyone to mislead society,” said the prime minister at the press conference.

During the press conference, commenting on his recent visit to Germany, PM Kobakhidze accused the German Ambassador Peter Fischer of spreading false information. “The German Ambassador spread false information, as if our delegation in Germany had been told at all three meetings that the law was bad and that we should not pass it. He has been spotted with the “Lelo” party and may have received this information there,” said Kobakhidze.    

For the third evening in a row, tens of thousands of people gathered on Rustaveli Avenue, protesting against the adoption of the Foreign Agents Law and demanding the withdrawal of a bill. At night, protestors moved to the government building, asking PM Kobakhidze to come out and speak. Police detained several people, including opposition MP Aleko Elisashvili, from the “Citizens” party.

EU High Representative Joseph Borrell and Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi reacted in a joint statement to the adoption of the so-called “Foreign Agents Law” by the Georgian parliamentary majority in its first reading. They stressed that “this is a very concerning development, and the final adoption of this legislation would negatively impact Georgia’s progress on its EU path.” “This law is not in line with EU core norms and values,” the joint statement reads.

Commenting on the ongoing protest rallies in Tbilisi, the U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel urged the Georgian government “to heed warnings that this bill is not in line with European Union’s norms and values, and it would certainly negatively impact Georgia’s progress on its EU path.” He further added that the U.S. “will continue to urge and reiterate with the Georgian government” this “dire concern” with this legislation.

The Diplomats Club of Georgia, which unites former Georgian diplomats, issued a joint statement condemning the proposed “Foreign Agents Law” initiated by the GD Government and expressing solidarity with citizens protesting against the law. In the statement, the diplomats emphasize that “Georgia is at a historic crossroads” and say that “if democratic reforms are carried out, Georgia will become an EU member in just six years.

In a lengthy Telegram post, Deputy Chair of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the Georgian authorities’ attempt to adopt the bill, writing that the ongoing protests are managed by the “experienced and familiar Hollywood hand” and claims that the Russian and analogous law adopted in Kyrgyzstan, as well as draft Georgian law “quite rightly – requires them [foreign agents] to be transparent and prevents hidden illegal foreign interference in the internal affairs of the state, its economy and political life.

President Salome Zurabishvili met with the EU and EU member states ambassadors at the Orbeliani Palace to discuss developments unfolding in the country, particularly the Foreign Agents Law. According to the official press release, during the meeting, the President emphasized the importance of international partners’ support for Georgia’s European path and noted that Russia’s goal is to destabilize the country and divide society, which, she stressed, Russia should not be allowed to achieve.

In an accelerated manner, the Parliament adopted the amendments to the Tax Code in the first hearing. The law relieves all natural persons from their recognized unpaid tax arrears incurred before January 1, 2021, and exempts from all taxes the transfer of assets from enterprises in tax havens to Georgian entities, provided this happens before January 1, 2028, and that both the offshore and recipient company are fully owned by the same Georgian owner. Some opposition MPs claim that the ruling majority and its leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, are hedging against the potential sanctions after passing the foreign agents law and trying to repatriate their assets.

NGOs issued a joint statement following the arrests on April 16 of 13 peaceful protesters, strongly condemning police actions. In a statement, NGOs call upon the police “to stop illegal interference with freedom of expression and assembly, illegal arrests, and physical violence against citizens.” The statement also states that “most of the detainees have signs of physical injuries, and three of them are currently hospitalized.”


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