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Georgia’s Foreign Agent Law Live | Papuashvili accuses Baltic politicians of ‘Russian worldview’

16 May 2024
Protesters blocking Heroes Square, a major intersection in the centre of Tbilisi. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

Exchanges of criticism between Georgian and foreign officials have intensified, as pushback continues against the foreign agent law, passed in its third and final reading on Tuesday. 

This article will be updated throughout the day. 

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16 May 2024, 20:49

We’re ending our coverage for today. Join us tomorrow for more on Georgia’s foreign agent law.

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16 May 2024, 20:47

Demonstrators gathering in front of Parliament

Hundreds of demonstrators are gathering in front of the parliament to protest the foreign agent law.

16 May 2024, 20:38

Podcast | Georgia’s foreign agent law passes — what’s next?

In this week’s episode of the Caucasus Digest podcast, OC Media’s Robin Fabbro, Mariam Nikuradze, and Shota Kincha talk about President Salome Zourabichvili’s expected veto of the law, the possibility of Western sanctions against members of the ruling Georgian Dream party, and the future of the protest movement against the law.

16 May 2024, 19:09

4GB cancels festival in light of ‘situation in the country’

The annual electronic music festival, 4GB, has been cancelled. The organisers said they considered it ‘unjustified’ to hold a festival in light of ‘the situation in the country’. The festival was set to be held on 23–25 May, and has in previous years been well-attended by festivalgoers. 

‘Our full support to every person fighting for the European future of Georgia!’ their statement read.

16 May 2024, 18:46

Journalist fired from pro-government TV for condemning violence at protests

A morning show host on pro-government PosTV, Ana Amilakhvari, has written that she was fired from the channel for condemning violence at demonstrations against Georgia’s foreign agent law in a post on social media. 

‘[After writing the post] I knew for sure that they would call me soon, I had a precedent once (I tagged the City Hall and [Tbilisi Mayor Kakha] Kaladze and they made me remove it)’, she wrote. 

‘I waited a little, and they called me so quickly that I laughed’, wrote Amilakhvari. ‘They explained to me in a very polite and friendly manner that a person who has a different position from them cannot work on this TV channel. Even a humane position is unacceptable. I went my way, they went theirs’.

Amilakhvari added that she learnt on Wednesday that PosTV had ‘halted cooperation’ with other employees too. 

A show on the same channel hosted by well-known singer and pianist Irma Sokhadze has also been taken off air. Sokhadze told Formula that she could not host the programme in light of current events in Georgia, and had herself initiated its suspension.

‘My request and initiative was to stop the show because I can’t host an entertainment show right now’, she said, adding that she didn’t know if the show would resume.

According to Formula, Sokhadze had previously criticised the foreign agent law and the government’s actions.

16 May 2024, 18:16

Michael Roth fires back at Papuashvili

Michael Roth, the chair of the German Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has fired back at the speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, for accusing him and other visiting Western politicians of having a Russian ‘worldview’. 

Roth called on Papuashvili to listen and talk to Georgian citizens demonstrating for EU values.

Several hours earlier, Roth appeared to reprimand EU Council President Charles Michel for suggesting he wanted to ‘find the best way to address legitimate concerns’ of the Georgian Government. ‘We shouldn’t help “Georgian Nightmare” to “modify” the “Foreign Agent law” to continue destroying liberal democracy’, he said.

16 May 2024, 17:57

Lazare Grigoriadis released

Lazare Grigoriadis has been released from detention.

Grigoriadis was detained during Tuesday’s protests for ‘disobeying police’ and ‘petty hooliganism’. He previously spent over a year in prison following last year’s protests against the foreign agent law, before being pardoned by President Zourabichvili in April.

Speaking to journalists, Grigoriadis said he ‘did not understand at all’ what he was arrested for.

‘Many people were arrested there. On the way [to the police station], they hit us, beat us, cursed us, they were taking footage of us at the same time’, he recalled.

‘I was standing in front of the parliament with my friend when I was arrested. They started arresting [people] randomly in front of me, and I was helping others not to get arrested, at that moment I was dragged away too’.

16 May 2024, 17:46

Special Investigation Service under pressure to report on probes into attacks on government critics

Two opposition MPs, Khatia Dekanoidze and Tamar Kordzaia, have appealed to the head of Georgia’s Special Investigation Service to update the public on probes into police violence against opposition figures, activists, and journalists in recent weeks. 

The two warned that they uninvestigated cases of police misconduct — including the reported beating by police of anti-Russian activist Davit Katsarava, which they described as ‘torture’ — to international groups to advocate for sanctions against the police officials involved. 

The lawmakers also complained that the Interior Ministry has similarly failed to report if they had identified any of the masked men who have attacked government critics in recent weeks.

16 May 2024, 17:20

Ivanishvili’s wife publicly supports ruling party founder

The spouse of billionaire Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, Ekaterina Khvedelidze, has published a letter endorsing her husband’s efforts to pass the foreign agent law.

Ivanishvili officially holds the position of ruling party honorary chair, but is known to be the ruling party’s leader. 

Responding to calls to appeal to her husband to reconsider, Khvedelidze insisted she stood by him and ‘absolutely shared his views’. 

She said the public had become ‘divided’ over the law because it had been ‘misinterpreted’, and suggested that ‘any conflict should be resolved through dialogue’. 

Ekaterina Khvedelidze has rarely, if ever, spoken out publicly since coming to public view in 2011 following Ivanishvili's announcement of his intention to enter politics. 

16 May 2024, 15:34

Russian Duma vice speaker accuses foreign ministers of interfering in Georgia

Vice Speaker of the Russian Federation Council Konstant Kosachev wrote on Telegram that the participation of Lithuania, Estonia, and Iceland’s foreign ministers in ‘an illegal, violent protest’ against Georgia’s foreign agent law was interference in Georgia’s affairs. Kosachev compared their attendance to the presence of former US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland at the Ukrainian Maidan protests. 

‘Countries change, but the methods remain the same — complete contempt for the sovereignty of [their] guinea pigs and unceremonious intervention in front of the whole world’, he wrote. ‘Legislative regulation of the transparency of foreign influence is an imperative for any state that protects its constitution and its people from externally sponsored coups.’

In the last few days, Georgian officials have criticised visiting European politicians for attending and addressing protests while visiting Georgia.

16 May 2024, 14:06

Mothers’ protest at 16:00

Dafioni, an activist group participating in the organisation of the protests against the foreign agent law, has announced that ‘mothers with their children’ will gather on Tbilisi’s First Republic Square at 16:00 today, and march to the parliament.

16 May 2024, 14:05

Students announce daily protests

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, with specific locations and times to be announced closer to the protests, local media reported.

The protests of the past weeks have mostly begun in the evening, and continued into the early hours of the following day.

16 May 2024, 13:42

‘Family purity day’ declared public holiday

Georgia’s government has announced that Friday will be a public holiday, ‘in connection with the day of sanctity of the family and respect for parents’. The Orthodox Church has been commemorating ‘Family Purity Day’ on 17 May, the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, since 2014, holding annual rallies in support of ‘family values’. 

Orthodox priests celebrate family purity day on 17 May 2023, the same day as International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

16 May 2024, 13:29

Protesters who broke parliament barrier face six years in prison

The Interior Ministry has released video footage from Tuesday’s protest during which protesters broke through a metal barrier outside parliament, and announced that two individuals shown in the video have been arrested for their actions. 

They stated that the protesters, aged 19 and 23, were arrested ‘on the charge of damage to an object committed as a group’.

If found guilty, the protesters face six years in prison.

A still from the video shared by the Interior Ministry, showing a protester breaking the parliamentary barrier.

16 May 2024, 12:29

Papuashvili: Baltic politicians have ‘Russian worldview’

Speaker of Parliament Shalva Papuashvili has accused visiting politicians from Baltic states of having a ‘worldview’ similar to the Russian government and replacing ‘diplomacy [...] with propaganda’. 

Baltic foreign ministers arrived in Tbilisi on Wednesday, and addressed protesters at last night’s demonstration against the foreign agent law. 

‘Anyone familiar with Soviet and contemporary Russian history would swiftly recognize the pattern.’

Papuashvili described the mass protests against the foreign agent bill as ‘radical anti-government rallies’, echoing frequent accusations by government officials that participants of the protests are being paid, misled, or organised by opposition or foreign groups. 

16 May 2024, 12:11

Key events from yesterday

  • Representatives of the EU, NATO, and OSCE condemned the adoption of the foreign agent bill by the Georgian parliament. 
  • At least nine lecturers from Caucasus University 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.
  • Thousands of protesters blocked Heroes Square, a major intersection in the centre of Tbilisi. The foreign ministers of Estonia, Lithuania, and Iceland joined a student march along Rustaveli Avenue from Heroes Square.
  • Parliament submitted the foreign agent law to President Salome Zourabichvili for approval. Zourabichvili has two weeks to approve or return it to parliament with ‘reasonable remarks’, after which parliament can reject the remarks and approve it with a simple majority. 
  • President Zourabichvili underlined 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. Ruling party officials appeared to earlier suggest that they might amend the law in light of her feedback on it. 
  • 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 day following the foreign agent law’s passing.