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Georgia’s Foreign Agent Law Live | Georgian Dream condemns US visa sanctions

24 May 2024
Protesters outside Georgia's Parliament on 12 May. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

Georgia’s ruling party officials have condemned the announcement of US visa restrictions on unspecified individuals involved in ‘undermining democracy’ in the country.

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24 May 2024, 22:35

We’re ending our coverage for today.

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24 May 2024, 22:31

Putin comments on Kobakhidze’s allegation against EU Commissioner 

In today’s press conference, Russian president Vladimir Putin briefly commented on Georgian PM’s allegation that the EU threatened to have him assassinated.

Irakli Kobakhidze earlier claimed that EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi ‘threatened’ he would share the fate of Slovak PM Robert Fico, who survived an assassination attempt last week.

Putin suggested he was not familiar with the scandal but added that, if true, ‘this cannot be regarded as anything other than political hogwash’.

‘This is just ugliness, that’s all it is’, he added.

Várhelyi has vigorously denied the allegation, insisting his communication with the Georgian prime minister has been misconstrued. 

24 May 2024, 22:21

Thousands march to Interior Ministry

Thousands of people have marched to the Interior Ministry in Tbilisi to protest the foreign agent law and police brutality against the protests.

Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.
Protesters hold photos of the victims of police violence aloft. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.
Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

24 May 2024, 20:27

Girchi offers Georgian Dream MPs to jump ship and form new government 

Parlioamentary opposition party Girchi — New Political Centre (not to be confused with the non-parliamentary spinoff Girchi — More Freedom, led by Zurab Japaridze) have offered Georgian Dream lawmakers to abandon the party and form a new government with them ‘so that the adoption of the [foreign agent] bill becomes impossible’. 

The party, which has just four MPs, also urged Georgian Dream MPs help them to ensure that parliamentary elections take place in a ‘peaceful climate’. 

The libertarian group warned members of the ruling party that their hopes of coming out unscathed in a ‘fight with the Americans’ were now dashed, and that they were ‘heading towards the abyss’. 

Throughout the protest campaign against the foreign agent bill, key opposition groups have distanced themselves from Girchi — New Political Centre, not least due to their pivotal votes in favour of Georgian Dream’s amendments that elminated mandatory party gender quotas last month. The party has reciprocated with animosity towards protest leaders. 

24 May 2024, 20:23

Protest march begins

Protesters are marching from Tbilisi’s Freedom Square to the Interior Ministry building, in solidarity with those arrested and injured by police during the ongoing protests against the law.

Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

24 May 2024, 19:11

Papuashvili complains the law is being ‘stigmatised’

Georgian Dream has dismissed criticism of the foreign agent law at today’s standing committee session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). 

In an address to the PACE meeting, the Georgian parliamentary speaker Shalva Papuashvili, who participated online and did not stick around to engage in discussions, complained about the ‘stigmatisation’ of the foreign agent law ‘by internal and external actors’. 

Papuashvili also asserted that ‘natural persons are not subject to the law’. 

The most recent version of the bill, a result of a change after it was adopted in its second reading but went unreported until recently, allows the Ministry of Justice to levy fines on individuals who fail to disclose information on suspected ‘agents of foreign influence’.

‘We must not be confused. We’re not “stigmatising”, we are criticising’, Theodoros Rousopoulos, PACE president noted after Papuashvili's speech. 

At the same session, Vice President of the Venice Commission, Veronika Bílková, reiterated the Commission’s opinion that ‘the law is not compatible with international standard and and should be repealed or rather, it should not be adopted after the veto casted [sic] by the president of Georgia’. 

24 May 2024, 15:55

For Georgia: ‘Ivanishvili won’t be able to defend you’

The opposition For Georgia party, led by former Ivanishvili ally and ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia, have released a statement urging officials to rethink their decision to support the foreign agent law while ‘there is still time’. 

The party cautioned lawmakers that they would not be able to ‘simply point a finger at Ivanishvili’. 

‘Your lot will be heavy, and the price you will have to pay will be high. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning’, the party said, referring to the US sanctions announced ;ast night.

‘You still have time to retract the bill and refuse to participate in the betrayal of Georgia’, the statement read. 

24 May 2024, 15:53

Georgian Dream decries ‘gross attempt to violate Georgia’s independence’

Georgian Dream's political council has described the US travel ban as as a ‘gross attempt to violate Georgia’s independence and sovereignty’ and a ‘policy of blackmail and threats’. They said the policy was incompatible with the Georgian-US strategic partnership or ‘even the general spirit of partnership that should be established between two sovereign states’.

The ruling party reiterated their claim that by invoking the recent attack on Slovak PM Robert Fico — a reference to EU enlargement chief Olivér Várhelyi warning PM Irakli Kobakhidze about the dangers of political polarisation — the ‘powers that be’ had attempted to blackmail Georgian high officials with the threat of assassination. 

The ruling party reiterated their claim that no one had been able to argue against the legislation on its merit and that similar laws or proposals had escaped similar criticism in other places, such as the EU, the US, and France.

They suggested that Georgia’s path to EU membership would not be hindered, citing Serbia and Bosnia as examples whose officials had been subjected to US sanctions.

‘We don’t plan to trade with our country’s sovereignty and security. No sort of blackmail will force us to take a step against our country. In these circumstances, sanctions would only be counterproductive and would harm their imposer’, the party argued. 

24 May 2024, 15:06

Opposition groups welcome US sanctions 

Seven major opposition groups — the United National Movement, Strategy Aghmashenebeli, Ahali, Lelo, Girchi — More Freedom, Droa, and the Republic Party — have issued a joint statement welcoming the US announcement of visa restrictions on Georgian officials involved in the passage of the foreign agent law and ‘undermining democracy in Georgia’. The statement called the sanctions a ‘robust contribution to defending Georgia’s constitution, sovereignty, and freedom’, as well as its ‘European and Euro-Atlantic future’.

24 May 2024, 14:25

Lelo’s Mamuka Khazaradze calls on Georgian diplomats to speak up

In a statement today, the chair of the opposition Lelo party, Mamuka Khazaradze, welcomed the US announcement of travel bans as a measure ‘to protect the Georgian people’. Khazaradze warned that the US revisiting bilateral cooperation with Georgia could be the first step in a trend that will affect Georgia's economy and hence, that the ‘Russian law’ had to be stopped immediately. 

He said that Georgian Dream had found themselves in ‘total international isolation’ and once again called on Georgian diplomats to speak out. 

‘I want to yet again call on all diplomats: immediately take the only dignified step, which is to expose the government subservient to Russia and save the country!’, he said.

So far, Georgia’s Ambassador to France, Gotcha Javakhishvili, has been the only diplomat to speak out against the foreign agent law, resigning earlier this month. 

Also today, Lelo, joined by another opposition group, Girchi — More Freedom, announced they were boycotting the Tbilisi City Council in protest against the foreign agent law.

24 May 2024, 14:23

Veto committee hearing scheduled for Monday

The Georgian parliament has confirmed that the legal affairs committee will hold a hearing on Monday to address the president’s veto. The parliamentary majority has already stated they intend to overrule the veto on Tuesday.

24 May 2024, 14:22

Mdinaradze suggests US worse than USSR

Georgia’s parliamentary majority leader, Mamuka Mdinaradze, has condemned the visa ban against unspecified Georgians announced by the US, adding that ‘the country’s independence is not for sale for visas’. 

‘Eventually, everyone will have to deal with Georgian people and the government elected by them instead of one imposed from abroad. Georgia will do it!’, Mdinaradze added. 

The majority leader also appeared to suggest that the US’ actions were more repressive than those of the Soviet Union.

‘Even the Soviet Union, several decades before dissolving, refused to hold family members responsible’, Mdinaradze said.

24 May 2024, 14:20

March planned for 19:00

Protesters against the foreign agent law plan to march from parliament to the Interior Ministry building at 19:00, in solidarity with those arrested and injured by police during the ongoing protests against the law.

Georgia's Interior Ministry. Photo: Anna Edgar/OC Media

24 May 2024, 14:06

EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement accuses PM of taking his words out of context

Olivér Várhelyi, the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, has come forward as the unnamed EU official who Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze accused of threatening him.

Kobakhidze yesterday claimed that countries ‘connected with the global war party’ were behind the attempted assassination of Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, and that an EU commissioner had threatened the same for him during a phone conversation.  

Várhelyi responded by stating that he regretted that ‘one part’ of their phone call had been ‘fully taken out of context’ in a way that ‘could give rise to a complete misinterpretation’ of what was said.

‘Being fully aware of the very strong pro-EU sentiment of the Georgian society, during my phone conversation I felt the need to call the attention of the Prime Minister on the importance not to enflame further the already fragile situation by adopting this law which could lead to further polarisation and to possible uncontrolled situations on the streets of Tbilisi. In this regard, the latest tragic event in Slovakia was made as an example and as a reference to where such high level of polarisation can lead in a society even in Europe’, he said.

24 May 2024, 14:05

US imposes travel restrictions

Last night, the US announced visa restrictions against ‘those responsible for undermining democracy in Georgia’, in response to the government’s foreign agent law and use of ‘intimidation and [...] violence to suppress peaceful dissent’. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken added that he was also launching a ‘comprehensive review’ of all US-Georgia cooperation. 

Read more: US to impose travel bans on Georgians who ‘undermine democracy’

24 May 2024, 14:03

Key events from yesterday

  • The Defence Ministry has announced that the military will take part in Sunday’s Independence Day celebrations. Such participation is a standard part of the event. 
  • Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze claimed that countries ‘connected with the global war party’ were behind the attempted assassination of Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, and that the EU had threatened the same for him. 
  • An MP from Georgian Dream’s parliamentary majority told journalists that parliament would overturn the president’s veto of the foreign agent law during a plenary session on Tuesday, 28 May. He said the Legal Affairs Committee would first review the President’s veto on Monday, and that the veto would be overruled ‘very easily and very fairly’. 
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