The bill on transparency of foreign influence, proposed by People's Power, a public movement composed of former members of the ruling Georgian Dream party, was supported at the first hearing by the Foreign Relations and Defence Committees later on Thursday amid confrontation at the joint session.
Both verbal and physical confrontations occurred among the lawmakers while discussing the draft law, which involves the registration of non-commercial legal entities and media outlets as “agents of foreign influence” if they derive more than 20 percent of their income from abroad. After the incident, the security officers of the Georgian Parliament forcibly removed opposition MPs, including the newly elected United Nations Movement chair Levan Khabeishvili and Giorgi Vashadze, the leader of the Strategy Agmashenebeli party.
In a meeting with the ambassadors of the European Union member states on Wednesday, the ambassadors “expressed their concerns on specific articles” [of the bill], but did not oppose the transparency, Nikoloz Samkharadze, the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee said at the session.
He noted a detailed discussion had been held on the needs and challenges facing Georgia, including the problems related to the finances “that might come from the hostile states”, as well as extremist religious organisations, which could “pose a great threat” to the country’s security.
In his turn, Sozar Subari, a member of People's Power, said Georgia’s non-governmental sector, with the EU funding, “demanded” to create a unified registry, where the non-profit legal entities, financed by foreign states, would be recorded, and he emphasised the bill proposed by his movement “literally” reflected the creation of the registry with “less demands”.
Guram Macharashvili, another member of the public movement, said “to prevent any speculations”, at the first hearing the bill would be approved “at the level of principles”, and stressed after it the draft law would be sent to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the second hearing would not be held until the Commission’s conclusion on the draft.
The ruling Georgian Dream party MP, Nino Tsilosani also made comments on the initiative and offered to change the name of the bill [removing the word agents], as it was a “matter of discomfort and concerns”.
There are many problems in Georgia and the Parliament should take care of them, Aleko Elisashvili, an MP from the Citizens opposition party said, noting the transparency bill was not relevant at this point.
An opposition MP, Armaz Akhvlediani also criticised the initiative and called on the ruling party to “pull back” the bill and stop “playing with Georgia’s future” [as the bill has been criticised by diplomatic representations in the country].
This is a “Russian law” for “Russian purposes”, Ana Natsvlishvili, one of the leaders of the Lelo opposition party stressed, adding the problem with the proposed bill was its “Russian essence” and not its terms.
The members of the opposition parties and citizens gathered in front of the Parliament building to protest the transparency bill. As the local media announced, police had arrested “several citizens”.
We urge the protesters not to exceed the limits of freedom of expression and assembly. Also, we warn the organisers and participants of the rally not to allow calls for violence and ensure that the rally not to become violent”, the Interior Ministry said, announcing the officers of the Ministry would apply “all appropriate measures” to ensure public order and security.
The leader of the Strategy Agmashenebeli party said they would continue the protest and would take “concrete steps” to “stop” the Parliament from adopting the law. The representatives of the NGOs also protested the bill at the session.