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Georgia’s Foreign Agent Law Live | Backlash against foreign agent law continues

15 May 2024
A protester facing riot police on Tuesday. Photo: Anna Edgar/OC Media

Protests against the foreign agent law are expected to resume today after parliament approved the law in its third and final reading on Tuesday.

This article will be updated throughout the day. 

Read more:

16 May 2024, 00:18

We’re ending our coverage for this evening. Join us tomorrow for more on the fallout of Georgian Dream’s decision to pass the foreign agent law.

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15 May 2024, 23:46

US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair: ‘You are not alone’

Ben Cardin, the chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has published a joint statement with representatives of the EU condemning the foreign agent law.

‘Simply put, this so-called ‘foreign agent’ law mirrors the policies of Vladimir Putin, who continues to illegally occupy 20% of Georgia’s territory’, the statement read.

‘We will never abandon the Georgian people who have bravely displayed their steadfast commitment to democratic values through peaceful resistance, nor will we hesitate to hold accountable those responsible for enacting this Russian-style law and for the brutal targeting of nonviolent demonstrators, including by Bidzina Ivanishvili and his cronies’.

‘To the Georgian people, we declare: You are not alone’.

15 May 2024, 23:20

Mdinaradze: I want to go down in history as the first MP to be sanctioned over the foreign agent law!

In a Facebook post rife with laughing emojis, Georgian Dream’s parliamentary leader Mamuka Mdinaradze said that he wanted to go down in ‘world history as the first legislator sanctioned for passing the [foreign agent] law!’

‘There is a lot of talk about personal sanctions, and I categorically demand that if such a mechanism is put into effect, they leave others alone and sanction me!’

US Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien had earlier said the US would apply travel restrictions and financial sanctions against individuals if the foreign agent law ‘goes forward’ in its current form or if there is a continued ‘undermining of democracy or violence against peaceful protesters’.

15 May 2024, 22:16

Estonian, Lithuanian, and Icelandic foreign ministers join protest at parliament

The foreign ministers of Estonia, Lithuania, and Iceland joined the student march along Rustaveli Avenue from Heroes Square.

15 May 2024, 20:40

Varhelyi: there is still a chance to reconsider foreign agent law

EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi has called on Tbilisi to withdraw the foreign agent law.

15 May 2024, 20:33

Lecturers resign from Caucasus University

At least nine lecturers from the Caucasus University have announced that they would be submitting their resignations in protest against their university’s administration’s condemnation of their lecturers’ taking part in the protests.

On Tuesday, Soso Berikashvili, the former dean of economics at the university, stated that he was fired in April at the request of the State Security Service for allegedly swearing at Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The university’s president, Kakha Shengelia, has denied Berikashvili’s claims.

Earlier this week, the rectors of 38 universities, including Caucasus University, condemned their lecturers’ ‘unacceptable’ refusal to hold lectures in protest against the law.

The Caucasus University’s board later issued a statement distancing itself from the statement.

15 May 2024, 20:26

Foreign agent law protesters block Heroes Square

Thousands of protesters have blocked Heroes Square, one of Tbilisi’s largest intersections, after marching down to the square from the Tbilisi State Concert Hall.

15 May 2024, 19:44

Foreign agent law sent to president for approval

RFE/RL has reported that parliament submitted the foreign agent law to President Salome Zourabichvili for approval on Tuesday.

15 May 2024, 19:41

Demonstrator charged with assaulting police

The Interior Ministry has announced that the police arrested a demonstrator on charges of assaulting police.

They shared a video allegedly showing the man attacking the police during the protests. The man’s face is not blurred in the video.

The ministry said that he was ‘previously convicted of various crimes, including violence, causing bodily harm and disobeying the lawful request of a police officer’.

If found guilty, he will face seven years in prison.

Media has reported that the man shown in the video was Giorgi Okmelashvili, the head of advertising agency Limoni. 

15 May 2024, 19:00

Demonstration against foreign agent law in Kutaisi

Youth protesters are reportedly holding a demonstration against the foreign agent law in Kutaisi, west Georgia.

Protesters at the demonstration. Photo: Info Imereti

15 May 2024, 18:21

Landsbergius: Papuashvili misrepresented our conversation

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergius has stated that Georgian Parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili misrepresented their conversation, which took place during Landsbergius’ ongoing visit to Georgia. 

Papuashvili was quoted by IPN as stating that those present at the meeting had ‘all agreed that we did the right thing by not listening to our European colleagues’ in refusing to impose sanctions on Russia and not releasing imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili. 

‘We were proved right and they [were proven] wrong’, said Papuashvili. ‘We asked them what is the guarantee that they will not be wrong in this case too, as in the previous cases?’

He added that the foreign ministers were visiting Georgia in relation to the foreign agents law, and noted that ‘they had some concerns about the law’. 

Landsbergius was swift to condemn Papuashvili’s phrasing, stating that the foreign ministers ‘did not agree that Georgia was right to ignore European advice and values’, and had expressed ‘extremely strong views’ on the foreign agent law. 

15 May 2024, 17:45

TBC and Bank of Georgia shares fall

The value of shares in Bank of Georgia and TBC, Georgia’s two largest banks, fell by 12% and 15% respectively on the London Stock Exchange in the past day. The drop in value comes after the foreign agent law was passed in its final reading in parliament.

15 May 2024, 17:10

Papuashvili calls German Foreign Affairs Committee chair ‘airheaded’

Speaker of Parliament Shalva Papuashvili criticised the German Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee chair, Michael Roth, and suggested he was an ‘airheaded politician’, using a derogatory term (ქარაფშუტა) that is usually applied to women.  Roth has been on an official visit to Georgia since Tuesday, and attended Tuesday night’s protest against the foreign agent law. 

‘30 years of Germany’s aid to Georgia are thrown into the water with one stroke of the hand by such airheaded politicians’, said Papuashvili, according to IPN. ‘They come to Georgia, they attack the Georgian Church, and they don’t even realise what they are doing by doing this, and what they are doing to their country, Germany, and its name in Georgia, when a representative of the government is associated with an attack on the Georgian Church and an attack on the government elected by the people’. 

‘These are exactly the kind of airheaded politicians who, to take a selfie, can sacrifice a society to violence and disorder; these are the politicians we do not want to identify with Europe. Therefore, overall it is important that appropriate evaluations follow, including from their parties’.

Michael Roth and a number of other EU officials spoke at yesterday’s demonstration in front of parliament, calling on the government to ‘stop this law’ and expressing support for protesters. 

‘Please, dear Georgians, voters of “Georgian Nightmare”, listen to the young generation, listen to your kids, listen to your brothers and sisters’, said Roth.

Today Roth posted a photo of posters accusing individuals from Georgian opposition, civil society, and human rights defence groups of ‘selling’ the country, writing that the poster ‘looks and sounds very Russian’. Such posters were widespread in Tbilisi during the 2023 campaign for the foreign agent law, and began to appear overnight in large numbers in public places after the announcement that it was being revived. 

15 May 2024, 14:37

NATO, OSCE, and EU condemn adoption of foreign agent law

Representatives of the EU, NATO, and OSCE have condemned the adoption of the foreign agent bill by the Georgian parliament. 

The EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, and the European Commission urged the Georgian authorities to withdraw the law which they underlined ‘negatively impacts Georgia’s progress on the EU path’ and to uphold ‘commitment’ to the path towards the EU, and pursue the nine reforms suggested by the EU after granting Georgia candidate status in December. 

NATO Spokesperson Farah Dakhlallah termed the bill’s adoption ‘a step in the wrong direction’, and urged Georgia’s authorities to ‘change course’, while OSCE Chair-in-office Ian Borg condemned the use of violence against protesters. 

15 May 2024, 13:48

Public defender: three out of 16 detainees, including Lazare Grigoriadis, claim police abuse

Public defender Levan Ioseliani reported that three of the 16 protesters that the police detained in front of parliament yesterday after the bill was voted on, including foreign agent protester Lazare Grigoriadis, claim that they were mistreated by the police. 

Grigoriadis’ lawyer, Eka Kobesashvili, earlier stated that Grigoriadis reported being beaten by police, and at one point losing consciousness.

‘His face is damaged, he has injuries on his head, he has cuts on his hands from the handcuffs, his head and sides hurt’, said Eka Kobesashvili. 

Grigoriadis was released from prison on 24 April, after being pardoned by President Salome Zourabichvili. Grigoriadis had earlier that month been found guilty of violence during the March 2023 protests against Georgia’s draft foreign agent law, following over a year of pre-trial detention.

In a statement earlier on Tuesday, the public defender said that despite over 150 protesters detained since the revival of the foreign agent law in April with frequent reports and footage of police abuse of power against them, the investigative authorities had failed to report identifying even one police officer who had done so, including officers ‘whose faces were not covered while they acted unlawfully’. 

‘We underline again that this will encourage a sense of impunity’, wrote Ioseliani. 

15 May 2024, 13:20

Zourabichvili: no intention to engage in ‘misleading’ negotiations with Georgian Dream

President Salome Zourabichvili underlined today that she has no intention to cooperate with the ruling Georgian Dream party in her expected veto of the foreign agent law, adopted by the parliamentary majority on Tuesday. 

After the law’s passing, Georgian prime minister Irakli Kobakhidze suggested that his party would be open to considering feedback from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission if Zourabichvili reflected it in her veto of the law. 

Feedback from the Venice Commission is expected to be published early next week.

Today, Marija Pejčinović Burić, secretary general of the Council of Europe, called the Georgian parliament adopting the bill in final reading prior to receiving the opinion of the Venice Commission ‘very disappointing’.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the foreign ministers of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Iceland who arrived in Tbilisi today, the Georgian president noted that her veto would not constitute entering into ‘false, artificial, misleading negotiations’ with the parliamentary majority. 

‘No and never!’, she added. ‘No one should think that Georgia’s president can be used for saving the face of this government’.

At the same press conference, Lithuania's foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis stated that ‘cosmetic’ changes to the law would not make it compatible with European values. 

Salome Zourabichvili (far right) at a joint press conference with the foreign ministers of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Iceland on 15 May. Official photo

15 May 2024, 12:43

11 US Senators: This is a dark day for Georgian democracy

11 US Senators, including Ben Cardin, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have issued a bipartisan statement condemning the adoption of the foreign agent bill by the Georgian parliament on Tuesday. 

‘The passage of this law will fundamentally change Georgia’s relationship with the United States and damage aspirations for European Union (EU) membership’, they wrote. 

The senators reiterated their intention to advocate for sanctions by the US government ‘on those responsible for undermining democracy’, including visa restrictions and reassessing US aid to Georgia. 

At a press briefing the same day, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shared the same sentiment over Georgia’s ‘Kremlin-style’ legislation. 

‘If this legislation passes, it will compel us to fundamentally reassess our relationship with Georgia’, Jean-Pierre stated, in reference to the Georgian parliament overriding an expected presidential veto,

 

15 May 2024, 12:10

Key events from yesterday

  • The controversial foreign agent law has been approved by parliament over a month after its submission in early April. President Salome Zourabichvili is expected to veto the law.
  • The law passed as thousands of protesters gathered outside parliament. Some attempted to break into parliament by tearing down barricades set around the building. At least 13 people were arrested on Tuesday. Later on Tuesday night, protesters blocked Heroes Square, one of Tbilisi’s largest intersection, along with both major highways along the River Mtkvari, and the central Chavchavadze Street. 
  • Major opposition parties expressed support for a ‘European platform of national resistance’ with President Zourabichvili.
  • US Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien has said the US will apply travel restrictions and financial sanctions against individuals if the foreign agent law ‘goes forward’ in its current form or if there is a continued ‘undermining of democracy or violence against peaceful protesters’
  • The White House has warned that the law would ‘compel us to fundamentally reassess our relationship with Georgia’.
  • Germany and Lithuania’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee chairs and Czech senator Pavel Fischer addressed and joined the protesters on Tuesday night, while on a visit to Tbilisi.