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Georgia’s Foreign Agent Law Live | Church marks Family Purity Day

17 May 2024
People gathered for Family Purity Day by the Kashveti church in Tbilisi. Photo: Dominik Cagara/OC Media

Backlash continues over Georgia’s foreign agent law, as the Church marks Family Purity Day.

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17 May 2024, 19:55

We’re ending our coverage for today. 

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17 May 2024, 19:53

Kobakhidze challenges ‘healthy youngsters’ to debate him

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze has posted on Facebook challenging protesters to debate him on the foreign agent law.

He told protesters he would debate around 10 ‘healthy youngsters’ and ‘2–3 non-youths whom you consider to be authoritative experts’.

‘I am ready not only to hear from them, but also, when appropriate, to share notes, and I expect the same attitude from the youth’, he wrote.

‘I think, amid the subdued emotions, there is a better opportunity to have a healthy discussion about the law’, he added. 

GEUT (‘stubborn’), an anti-government group and one of the organisers of the protests, rejected the PM’s offer, saying the law should be dropped ‘unconditionally and immediately’.

‘We believe that this initiative proposed by Russia’s puppet Prime Minister is bait, the purpose of which is to legitimise the Russian law [foreign agent law]’, they stated.

17 May 2024, 19:20

Arsen Kharatyan: Armenia could become a safer zone for Georgian civil society

Arsen Kharatyan, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Armenian-language Georgian news site, Aliq Media, has suggested that Armenia could become a safe haven for Georgian media and civil society.

Speaking with Armenian media outlet CivilNet, Kharatyan noted that a number of his Georgian partners were already contacting them about possibly relocating to Armenia. 

‘In fact, at this moment, Armenia could become a safe zone for the political society of Georgia, a function that Georgia itself has carried out for a long time’, he said.

A month ago, over 20 Armenia-based civil society groups published a letter of support to Georgian civil society, in which they criticised the re-introduction of the foreign agent bill in Georgia. 

As the 2023 edition of the Eastern Partnership index released in January noted, ‘Georgia’s performance was characterised by a significant downwards drift, if not a sharp plunge in many areas which reflects the country’s political polarisation’.

17 May 2024, 19:01

Estonian foreign minister suggests visa liberalisation could be removed

In an interview with DW, Estonian foreign minister Margus Tsahkna vowed to ‘raise this issue [of adopting the foreign agent bill in Georgia] on EU level heavily’, suggesting visa-free access to the EU for Georgian citizens could be taken away as a result.

‘All these positions that we've made about the [EU] candidacy or the visa [liberalisation] — they're not granted for the Georgian government, and the responsibility about that is relaying on the Georgian government', Tsakhna warned. 

In a 24 April resolution adopted by the European Parliament, MEPs called on the European Commission to ‘promptly assess’ the impact of the foreign agent law on Georgia’s visa liberalisation criteria.

In response, government officials and Georgian Dream leaders vehemently disputed the likelihood, with some noting that it would need a unanimous decision from all 27 member states. 

17 May 2024, 17:32

Georgian Dream lawmaker denies the law concerns individuals

Tengiz Sharmanashvili, a member of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliament from the ruling Georgian Dream faction, claimed that in the final, edited version of the foreign agent law doesn’t allow authorities to fine individuals as well as organisations for failing to provide financial information, RFE/RL reports.

According to Sharmanashvili, if the law is understood to apply to individuals, he is ready to correct it with a new legislative initiative, RFE/RL said.

Earlier today, Saba Brachveli, a lawyer from the Tbilisi-based Civil Society Foundation, revealed that the authors of the bill had expanded the law’s scope prior to its final vote on 14 May, allowing the authorities to fine individuals as well as organisations for failing to provide confidential information to the authorities.

17 May 2024, 17:26

Patriarch’s surrogate endorses homophobic constitutional amendments

Standing in for the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church during a speech at Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi today, Shio Mujiri has defended a homophobic bill recently introduced by the ruling Georgian Dream party. 

In late March, Georgian Dream announced extensive constitutional revisions that would outlaw gender transitioning and what they called ‘LGBT propaganda’ — including prohibiting public demonstrations or publications that ‘popularise same-sex family or intimate relations’. 

Mujiri also chastised European Parliament members for their criticism of the draft legislation. 

'The bill initiated by the parliamentary majority and an attempt to safeguard our children from propaganda of grave sin was dubbed by the European parliamentarians as an assault on free speech. We can not allow this sort of depraved mentality to take hold in our country. We by all means have to adopt the mentioned bill', he argued. 

Mujiri also railed against ‘gender ideology’, a misnomer often used by ultraconservative actors around the world, including in recent years, the Georgian Dream-led government. 

He delivered his remarks during a church ceremony commemorating Family Sanctity and Reverence to Parents Day, which the Georgian Orthodox Church began celebrating in 2014 to counter the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, which is observed on the same day every year around the world. 

17 May 2024, 17:11

Kaladze: foreign ministers ‘insulting’ Georgia by attending protests

Mayor of Tbilisi and Georgian Dream Secretary General Kakha Kaladze has condemned the attendance of three foreign ministers visiting Georgia at a protest against the foreign agent law on Wednesday. 

‘Can you imagine the foreign minister of another country or a politician of another country coming to a protest rally in a developed country and making political statements against the government?’, he said.

‘This is very insulting and all developed countries would […] take these foreign ministers and kick them out of the country’, he added.

17 May 2024, 17:10

Public Defender: over half of those detained claim police mistreatment  

According to Georgia's Public Defender, 93 of the 180 people detained at anti-government protests since 15 April have accused police of mistreating them. 

Among the 93, they said that 71 had asked that their cases be probed by Georgia's Special Investigation Service. 

In a joint statement on Thursday, thirteen human rights groups in Georgia said the police’s actions ammounted to torture.

‘[T]he violence, inhumane and humiliating treatment of the protestors has a systematic character, which is encouraged by the decision-makers’, the statement said.

‘[I]n some cases the violence perpetrated by the police on the participants of the rally is equal to torture in terms of its intensity and degree of cruelty.’ 

According to their statment, as of 15 May, the authorities launched criminal case investigations against 7 protesters.

17 May 2024, 15:52

Drug charges levied against protester after arrest 

Giorgi Okmelashvili, an advertising company director who participated in the protests against the foreign agent law, was on Wednesday arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer, with additional charges of drug possession added on Thursday, RFE/RL reported, citing his lawyer. Okmelashvili was today remanded to pre-trial detention by Tbilisi City Court. 

17 May 2024, 15:03

Brachveli: Georgian Dream are already broadening the scope of the foreign agents bill

According to Saba Brachveli, a lawyer with the Tbilisi-based Civil Society Foundation, the authors of the bill expanded the law’s scope prior to its final vote on 14 May, allowing authorities to fine individuals as well as organisations for failing to provide financial information to the authorities.

Russia’s foreign agent law, which the Georgian foreign agent law appears to be closely modelled on, initially applied only to organisations receiving funds from abroad, but was later expanded to apply to private individuals too. 

In light of critics’ expectations that the Georgian government would broaden the scope of the ‘transparency of foreign influence’ law, as happened in Russia, Brachveli emphasised that the ruling party had already made sure to do so even before it was passed.

17 May 2024, 14:15

Government officials join Family Purity Day celebrations

Processions are being held in Tbilisi and the regions to mark ‘Family Purity Day’, which was on Thursday declared a public holiday. The Orthodox Church has been commemorating ‘Family Purity Day’ on 17 May, the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, since 2014, holding rallies in support of ‘family values’.

Ruling Georgian Dream officials, including Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, joined a prayer organised by the Patriarchate at Kashveti church in front of Georgia’s parliament.

Tens of thousands of people are currently gathered on Rustaveli Avenue.

17 May 2024, 13:44

Chinese Ambassador: ‘We respect the internal politics of other countries’

The Chinese Ambassador to Georgia, Zhou Qian, has stated that the foreign agent law is a matter of Georgia’s domestic policy, and that China does not interfere in the domestic politics of other countries, IPN reports.

‘We respect the internal politics of other countries. The fact that we do not interfere in the internal politics of Georgia means that we respect the sovereignty of the country’, he reportedly said.

In recent years, the Georgian Government has sought to deepen ties with China.

17 May 2024, 13:17

Kobakhidze: EU foreign ministers joining the protest was ‘unserious’

During an official visit to Turkey, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze has called the participation of several EU foreign ministers in protests against the foreign agent law in Tbilisi ‘unserious’.

He said this would have a negative impact on the image of those countries and the EU in Georgia.

On Wednesday the foreign ministers of Estonia, Lithuania, and Iceland joined a student march against the foreign agent law along Rustaveli Avenue.

17 May 2024, 11:54

Calls for protest pause

Tamar Jakeli, one of the organisers of the demonstrations against the foreign agent law, has said there will be no protests held today. The move was widely interpreted as being aimed at preventing tensions with the conservative or religious marches taking place as part of the Church organised family purity day.

Thousands of demonstrators have gathered across Georgia for more than a month to protest the controversial foreign agent law.

17 May 2024, 11:47

Key event from yesterday

  • Georgia’s government announced that today will be a public holiday, ‘in connection with the day of sanctity of the family and respect for parents’.
  • The Interior Ministry released footage of protesters breaking through the metal barrier outside parliament and announced they had arrested two individuals on charges of ‘damage to an object committed as a group’. If found guilty, they face up to six years in prison.
  • Students on strike against the foreign agent law have announced that they will hold daily demonstrations in the first half of the day from Saturday.
  • The spouse of billionaire Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, Ekaterina Khvedelidze, published a letter endorsing her husband’s efforts to pass the foreign agent law. Responding to calls to appeal to her husband to reconsider, Khvedelidze insisted she stood by him and ‘absolutely shared his views’.
  • The annual electronic music festival, 4GB, was been cancelled. The organisers said they considered it ‘unjustified’ to hold a festival in light of ‘the situation in the country’.
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