Controversial bill withdrawn in Georgia after major protests
The draft law on “foreign agents” is seen by many as a copy of a Russian draconian law.
Georgia's ruling party on Thursday backed down on its NGO and media bill that has sparked harshly repressed massive protests in the Caucasus country over the past two days.
As a party of government responsible to every member of society, we have decided to unconditionally withdraw this bill which we support, the Georgian Dream Party said in a statement posted on its website.
The announcement comes a day after massive protests in the capital Tbilisi saw police use tear gas canisters and water cannons to disperse tens of thousands of people gathered near parliament.
The protest movement was triggered by the adoption on Tuesday in first reading of a bill providing that NGOs and media receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad are obliged to register as agents from abroad, under penalty of a fine.
For its detractors, this text is inspired by a similar law which exists in Russia where the Kremlin uses it to repress the press independent, human rights organizations and its opponents.
The European Union Delegation to Georgia welcomed the announcement of the withdrawal of the text, urging all political leaders in Georgia to resume pro-European reforms, in an inclusive and constructive manner.
In its statement, the Georgian Dream party believes that the bill has been misrepresented in a bad light, adding that it will launch public consultations to better explain the purpose of this text.
The ruling party is therefore not completely closing the door to a future return of this bill to Parliament.
The retreat of the Georgian government comes after a crowd of tens of thousands of people gathered on Wednesday evening in the center of Tbilisi, in particular near the Parliament, chanting No to Russian law! and waving flags of Georgia and the European Union.
Police ordered protesters gathered outside Parliament to disperse, then fired gas and cannon at water, according to an AFP journalist.
The adoption at first reading of the draft law on foreign agents had led to the mobilization of thousands of opponents in Tbilisi on Tuesday evening, protests already dispersed with tear gas canisters and water cannons.
The Georgian Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that at least 77 people had been arrested and 50 police officers injured the day before.
On Tuesday, the opposition Girch party said in a statement that its leader, Zurab Japaridze, had been violently beaten by police officers and taken into custody.
The president of the Girch party Georgian dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, denounced the action of radicals. The protests that rocked Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday are part of a broader political crisis in the Caucasus country.
This former Soviet republic, marked by a Russian military intervention in 2008, officially aims to join the EU and NATO, a direction taken after the Rose Revolution of 2003.
This revolution had brought to power the pro-Western Mikheïl Saakashvili, who is today in the opposition and in prison from where he denounces a political revenge.
But several recent measures of the current government, such as the Foreign Agents Bill, have cast doubt on the maintenance of pro-Western aspirations, with the opposition accusing it of supporting Moscow.
The United States called on Tbilisi to respect freedom of assembly and demonstrations peaceful stays, State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterating Washington's concern over the law.