29 U.S. House Members Threaten Sanctions If Agents Law is Not Dropped

29 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a strongly worded joint letter to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze on May 10, urging the Georgian authorities to withdraw the foreign agents bill. “In the event this harmful legislation is not withdrawn, we would join our colleagues in the Senate in encouraging fundamental changes in U.S. policy toward Georgia, including reconsideration of U.S. financial assistance, the expansion of visa bans to the United States, and financial sanctions on those responsible for undermining Georgia’s democratic development,” the Representatives warn.

The Representatives stress that the Georgian authorities face a choice between hearing the voices of the Georgian people, and continuing to move on the “dark rode” towards “Russian-style authoritarianism.” “We state, in no uncertain terms, that choosing this latter path would cause the United States to fundamentally reassess the nature of our relationship. Just as Congress took note of the authoritarian descent in Belarus and passed the bipartisan Belarus Democracy Act of 2004, we are determined to respond to further attacks against the prosperous, Euro-Atlantic future that Georgia deserves.”

In the letter, the House members express their “grave concern” over the reintroduction of this bill, and stress that it is “fundamentally at odds with your government’s professed desire to further integrate into the transatlantic community and the spirit of the 2009 United States-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership,” which Tbilisi and Washington signed few months after the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.

The U.S. legislators argue that “the clear pretext of the “foreign agents” bill is to impose control over the very same partners who have worked alongside the Georgian people for decades in support of their transatlantic integration. Put simply, the passage of this bill would undermine the will of the Georgian people who seek a future in the West.”

In the letter, the Representatives dismiss the idea that the bill is modelled on the U.S. legislation, and instead draw parallels between the law enacted in Russia in 2012, and the Georgian foreign agents bill. The letter emphasizes that the Russian law was also justified “under the guise of “transparency,”” and was later used by Putin “to quash opposition to his rule, completing Russia’s descent back into Soviet-style authoritarianism. We believe the people of Georgia deserve and desire a better, more democratic future. The passage of this law only enables Russia’s malign influence to expand in Georgia.”

The House members also mention the rhetoric around this draft law, calling it “deeply polarizing.” In this context, they emphasize the ruling Georgian Dream’s Honorary Chairman, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s address to the crowd at the April 29 counter-rally, and highlight his promise ‘”to punish”‘ the opposition.

“Mr. Ivanishvili’s speech also insinuated that the United States and our partners in Europe have sought to undermine Georgia’s sovereignty, despite the fact that we have steadfastly supported your country’s sovereignty since your independence, including the 16 years since Russia outright invaded and occupied parts of your country in 2008. We condemn these offensive and atrocious statements by Mr. Ivanishvili,” the letter reads.

According to the letter, the Congress members’ concerns were “amplified” by the Georgian authorities response to the peaceful protests. “We are aware of reports of dozens of protestors, including American citizens, being kidnapped off the street and beaten by police. Last week, the chairman of an opposition party-who is also a sitting member of your parliament – was beaten in the streets of Tbilisi by government special forces.”

Notably, the U.S. legislators also mention the support that is coming from Russia for the bill. “That your actions have drawn condemnation from your country’s closest partners and praise from the country that occupies 20% of your sovereign territory should be a clear indication that you are taking Georgia down the wrong path,” the Representatives say.

The U.S. legislators letter comes as the ruling Georgian Dream party readies to pass the foreign agents bill in its third Committee hearing on Monday, despite the unprecedented international and domestic pressure. In recent days, a brutal crackdown on opponents of the bill has intensified, including methods such as life-threatening phone calls, beatings, and the posting of posters at the entrance to their homes or offices with pictures of activists, NGO leaders, and politicians, with writings on the posters calling these individuals “agents” and “enemies of the state.”

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