The Daily Beat: 21 April

Protests against the Foreign Agents Law and in defense of European choice continue in Tbilisi. Every evening, citizens of all generations, but mostly students and youth, gather near the parliament, blocking Rustaveli Avenue, and marching across the city, surrounding various state institutions and sites on their way, such as the Government Chancery, Justice Ministry, President’s Palace, Supreme Court, Heroes’ Square, and other locations. These days, walking through central Tbilisi, you can easily hear thousands of young people chanting – No to Russia! No to Russian Law! We are heading to Europe!

In light of week-long mass protests, former Prime Minister and the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Garibashvili, speaking to journalists during the pre-election campaign meeting in the central Georgian town of Gori, said that the country “had achieved the maximum” by gaining the candidate status in December last year, further noting that “Georgia today is not ready to become an EU member state,” citing “no consensus” over the EU membership issue within the country.

On April 18, “People’s Power,” the ruling Georgian Dream party’s spin-off, issued a lengthy statement attacking the West for condemning the reintroduced Foreign Agents bill. The party accused Georgia’s “sworn friends” of trying to conduct a revolution together with the Georgian opposition and the NGOs. The statement, full of conspiratorial scenarios, claims that the EU will “refuse to start negotiations” to prompt a revolution in the country.

As tensions flare over Georgia’s foreign agents bill, the ruling party rushed through a controversial tax law, fueling fears that the country will become a black money hub to benefit the party’s billionaire leader, among others. Amendments to the tax code passed by the Georgian Dream majority on April 19 under a fast-track procedure will make bringing offshore capital into Georgia easier. The change comes as the party brings the widely opposed “foreign agent” law back to life while increasingly questioning the financial transparency of civil society and media organizations.

A local watchdog, Transparency International – Georgia, made a statement on the controversial Tax Code amendments adopted in the third reading by the Parliament. The statement says that “the reason for these legislative changes may be the interests of the founder and honorary chairman of the ruling party, Bidzina Ivanishvili.” The watchdog also states that, at the same time, these changes will increase the risk of the inflow of criminal and Russian capital into Georgia.

Lazare Grigoriadis remains imprisoned despite President Salome Zurabishvili’s announced intention to pardon him. Judge Zviad Sharadze said he would use the 14 business days allowed by law to deliver the court’s decision to the parties. Only then would President Zurabishvili be able to issue the pardon legally. One of Grigoriadis’ lawyers confirmed to that the countdown of the 14 days began on April 12, when Grigoriadis was sentenced. The judge cited a large caseload as the reason for the delay.

A local human rights watchdog, Democracy Research Institute (DRI), claims that twelve of the 13 protesters detained by the police during the April 16-17 protests against the “foreign influence” law were “severely beaten.” “The detainees have serious body injuries, including concussions, traumatic arthritis of the jaw, injuries to upper and lower limbs, multiple bruises, contusions, cuts, lacerations,” the DRI said in its April 19 statement. The DRI also noted that two of the detainees remain hospitalized in serious condition.

Speaking at the panel titled “Georgia – The Battle for Democracy and Euro-Atlantic Integration” at the Bologna Institute for Policy Research, Kelly Degnan, former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, said on April 18 that the foreign agents’ law could be intended to curb election observation in Georgia. Amb. Degnan also noted that Georgia’s ruling party has spent the last year discrediting domestic election observers such as ISFED and TI-Georgia and argued that the Georgian Dream wants to stifle dissent “so that there is no one to criticize or comment on the fairness of the [parliamentary] elections in October.”

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