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Georgian government threatens protesters opposed to 'foreign influence' law

Photo: Tobis Schwarz Agence France-Presse Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidz, April 12, 2024

Ola Cichowlas – Agence France-Presse to Tbilisi

Posted at 3:10 p.m.

  • Europe

The Georgian government on Sunday threatened to arrest any protester who tried to prevent parliament from passing a controversial law on “foreign influence”, as a new demonstration is expected on Sunday evening in Tbilisi .

“I would like to warn all members of radical opposition groups that they will have to answer for their acts of violence before the courts,” warned the first Minister Irakli Kobakhidze.

Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri was even more explicit: “Group blocking of an object of particular importance is punishable by up to four years in prison,” he said. accused.

And he added: “We will use this article against violators of the law, without any exceptions.”

Authorities portrayed the protesters, made up largely of young people, as violent mobs.

“Stay safe”

For her part, the pro-EU Georgian president, Salomé Zourabichvili, in conflict with the government, called on the demonstrators to be vigilant.

“I want to address you [the demonstrators] so that you know […] There are plans that will not really work, but there are plans to organize provocations and involve you,” he said. she declared, without going into details.

“So stay very careful, which does not mean that you should be afraid,” she added .

The bill must pass a third reading in parliament and President Zurabichvili, in conflict with the Georgian Dream party, is expected to veto it.

This ruling party, however, has enough votes to override it.

On Saturday, there were already several thousand in the city ​​center of the Georgian capital, including many young people, to say “No to Russian law! », in reference to this text inspired by Russian legislation used by the Kremlin to repress dissident voices.

The text, an initiative of the Georgian Dream, by the wealthy Bidzina Ivanishvili, is seen as an obstacle on Georgia's path towards membership in the European Union, which has sharply criticized it.

If passed, the law will require any NGO or media organization receiving more than 20% of its funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a power

The government assures that this measure aims to force organizations to demonstrate greater “transparency” regarding their funding.

Many NGOs in the country have denounced the bill, which Mr. Ivanishvili, 68, defends with conviction against what he considers to be “a pseudo-elite nurtured by a foreign country.” .

The demonstrators, who have already organized several rallies in downtown Tbilisi in recent weeks, brandishing flags of Georgia and the European Union, and even Ukrainian flags, see the hand of Russia behind the text.

“I am ready to fight until victory,” Anri Papidzé, a 21-year-old student, who came to demonstrate on Saturday, told AFP.< /p>

This bill “threatens us,” argued Luka Bereia, a student leader of the protest. “We don’t want to be left out,” the 24-year-old said. He said he planned to spend the night outside parliament and was preparing for an “extraordinary night”, saying he was not afraid of the police.

High tensions

The tension between supporters and opponents of the text rose a notch on Saturday, during a large gathering of its detractors yet peaceful.

Because if the opposition has shown its unity against the text, the ruling party does not seem ready to back down at this stage, causing yet another political crisis in this small Caucasian country accustomed to turmoil.

Representatives of NGOs have claimed to have been threatened or intimidated in recent days, described as “foreign agents” by the law's most fervent defenders.

In April, during previous demonstrations, the police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The law on “Foreign influence” was first presented by the Georgian Dream in 2023. But massive protests had already forced the government to shelve it.

Son return, at the beginning of April, created a surprise and aroused the anger of many Georgians, particularly the youngest.

These unrest comes a few months before legislative elections in October, considered an important test for democracy in this former Soviet republic.

In December 2023, the EU granted Georgia official candidate status, but said Tbilisi would need to carry out reforms to its judicial and electoral systems, increase press freedom and limit the power of oligarchs before accession talks were officially concluded. launched.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116