Protests against bill on foreign influence transparency “turned into violence” - Interior Minister

  • The Minister pointed out open messages “were constantly being circulated on social media” encouraging violence before the launch of protests. Photo: Interior Ministry, 19 May 2023 - 21:28, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgian Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri on Friday said March protests in Tbilisi against the Bill on Transparency of  Foreign Influence had “turned into violence” despite “numerous calls” from his office to protesters to act peacefully. 

Addressing the lawmaking body, the official stressed the actions of demonstrators - protesting the bill that envisaged registration of “non-commercial legal entities and media outlets as agents of foreign influence if they derived more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad”- had posed threats to “state institutions, law enforcement officers and other protesters”.

He highlighted before the use of special means to disperse the rally, the body had warned demonstrators both through domestic media and on the spot, which he said had been preceded by the arrest of 10 individuals with “electric shocks, batons, stones and various pyrotechnics”. 

“As a result of violent actions by demonstrators, 58 law enforcement officers had received injuries, with several of them in need of surgical interventions”, he said, noting attacking or assaulting police was not tolerable in any democratic state. 

“Maybe you can all agree that verbally abusing or assaulting police officers or engaging in aggressive behavior against them is inappropriate anywhere in the civilised world”, he said.

Gomelauri noted a total of 146 people had been arrested during the protests between March 7-8 and criminal prosecution had been launched against six. 

He informed the lawmakers 112 individuals of total detainees had been subjected to administrative punishment and the court had imposed a fine on 59 offenders, with several cases still pending. 

Providing further details, Gomelauri noted the demonstrators "damaged, overturned and set fire" to the police vehicle, threw stones at a bus belonging to the Special Tasks Department, blocked the road and removed an iron barrier installed near the Parliament building, before damaging the windows and doors of the legislative body. 

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“Pyrotechnics started a fire in a room on the second floor that could have spread if the law enforcement failed to take necessary measures”, he said. 

Gomelauri stressed his employees had used “appropriate coercive measures and special means” provided by the law to prevent “violent and aggressive actions” by a group of denominators. 

The Minister pointed out open messages “were constantly being circulated on social media” encouraging violence before the launch of protests. 

“We have information a group of protesters had prepared to block the Parliament building in a bid to prevent MPs and other employees in the lawmaking body from leaving the facility to organize a so-called shame corridor for them and also individually attack them”, Gomelauri noted. He added to prevent potential threats, his office had sent more police officers "since there was a real danger to the safety of lawmakers and the Parliament personnel”. 

In his final note, the official extended his gratitude to law enforcement officers who he said had "dignifiedly protected" both the legislative body, MPs and ensured public order. 

The controversial bill was withdrawn by the ruling Georgian Dream party following the rallies “considering the importance of peace” in the country and was rejected by the legislative body in early April.