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Georgia’s Foreign Agent Law Live | Legal committee approves bill as protests continue

13 May 2024
Riot police and water cannons in the early hours of Monday morning. Photo: Tamar Shvelidze/OC Media

Discussions of the foreign agent law are set to resume today after a week of national holiday, with protesters outside the parliament building since Sunday evening. 

This article will be updated throughout the day. 

Read more:

14 May 2024, 00:13

We’re ending our coverage of Georgia’s draft foreign agent law for today. Join us tomorrow when the bill is expected to begin its third and final reading.

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13 May 2024, 21:47

Rustaveli Avenue filled with protesters again

Several marches have reconvened outside the parliament on the central Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi to oppose the ‘Russian law’. Many of the protesters are students who refused to attend classes today and have urged their teachers and higher education institutions to support their strike. 

Several lecturers published photographs on social media today of empty auditoriums, with some joining the protests.

13 May 2024, 21:43

More on Bidzina’s ‘defacto sanctioning’

During his press conference, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze made references to Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili’s apparent financial woes.

He said that Ivanishvili had ‘trusted’ $2 billion to the West and that the money had ended up with the ‘Global War Party’, a term used by Ivanishvili and other officials to reference a secret group they claim controls the US and the EU. 

Kobakhidze said that Ivanishvilis assets ‘got frozen’ in March 2020, ‘after the war started in Ukraine’. 

The prime minister also hinted that he was asked by ‘other foreign diplomats and politicians’ to arrange meetings with Ivanishvili and that ‘in each case, the reason behind [Ivanishvili’s] refusal [to meet] was the same: Bidzina Ivanishvili claimed that he was de facto under sanctions anyway, had his $2 billion frozen that he entrusted to the West, but came into the hands of the global party of war’. 

Kobakhidze continued by saying that ‘as soon as this blackmail and de facto sanctions stop, immediately, of course, any meeting can take place’. 

After commenting on Ivanishvili’s ‘de facto sanctioning’, Kobakhidze did note that he ‘hoped’ what O'Brien would offer to Georgians during his visit would be 'visa liberalisation for Georgian citizens, free trade agreement and direct flights’. 

The $2 billion in question is a reference to money Ivanishvili previously held at Swiss bank Credit Suisse. 

In 2018, former Credit Suisse banker Patrice Lescaudron was convicted of fraudulently taking money from several clients, including Ivanishvili.

On 7 May, Bloomberg reported that Ivanishvili had launched a new lawsuit against the troubled bank for $220 million. According to Bloomberg, Ivanishvili has already been awarded $1.34 billion by courts in Bermuda and Singapore over the affair, though the bank vowed to appeal these decisions.

13 May 2024, 20:36

Kobakhidze: Ivanishvili refused to meet O’Brien

During his press conference, Kobakhidze also claimed that Bidzina Ivanishvili refused an offer to meet US Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien during his visit to Georgia tomorrow. 

Kobakhidze cited Ivanishvili’s position that he ‘cannot hold any meeting under blackmail’.  The Georgian prime minister reiterated his party’s claim that Ivanishvili remained ‘de facto’ internationally sanctioned, a reference to his apparent loss of access to some of his assets abroad.

13 May 2024, 20:32

Kobakhidze: the bill will be adopted tomorrow 

During a press conference, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze vowed that the foreign agent bill would be adopted in its third and final reading by parliament tomorrow. 

Kobakhidze added that they would still be ‘open for discussion’ on the contents of the bill after President Zourabichvili’s expected veto and before parliament voted to overrule her, expected from 14–28 May. 

The PM also complimented law enforcement agencies for ‘reacting to violence and unlawful activities [of protesters] with essentially American and European, high standards’, while adding that their handling of ‘several’ of those incidents ‘fell below the standards’ Georgian Dream had set after coming to power.

13 May 2024, 19:56

Pro-government media float O’Brien–Ivanishvili meeting

A number of pro-government media outlets have claimed that US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien intends to meet with Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili during his upcoming visit. They have reported that he intends to present a ‘specific package of sanctions’ prepared against Ivanishvili personally.

Citing a Georgian Dream talking head, Imedi and Rustavi 2 claimed that after that, Ivanishvili was planning to hold the meeting with his party and ask them to ‘soften’ their position on the contentious bill.

O’Brien is scheduled to visit Tbilisi tomorrow to ‘meet with representatives from government, civil society, and the private sector’. 

13 May 2024, 18:53

Government advisor resigns in protest 

Ivliane Khaindrava, an Adviser to the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, has resigned in protest against the foreign agent law, Netgazeti reports. Khaindrava was previously an MP in 1992–1995 and 2004–2008.

He is also the brother of filmmaker and prominent Georgian Dream supporter Goga Khaindrava.

13 May 2024, 16:14

At least four detainees ‘brutally beaten up’ by police

Lawyers for Guram Adamia, Giorgi Menteshashvili, and Guka Rcheulishvili, three of the twenty protesters detained this morning, said their clients  were violently assaulted by police while being detained outside the parliament. 

The brother of another detainee, Kakha Kvekveskiri, also confirmed his brother may need hospitalisation. In footage publicised by TV channel Pirveli, police officers are seen surrounding and kicking a protester, believed to be Kvekveskiri, as he lies on the ground. 

Following the emergence of the footage, Tbilisi-based rights group the Georgian Young Laywers’ Association called on Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri to denounce the violence while urging the Special Investigation Service to investigate the incidents.

13 May 2024, 15:52

Roth: No accession talks if the law is adopted

Following his meeting with opposition groups in Tbilisi, Michael Roth, the chair of Bundestag’s foreign relations committee, appeared to rule out the possibility of the EU beginning accession negotiations with Georgia if the foreign agent bill is passed. 

‘I don't see any chance of opening negotiations with this law, and this message from the EU is very, very clear’, he reportedly told the media. 

After the meeting, Sergo Chikhladze from the Strategy Aghmashenebeli party confirmed that the EU was mulling individual visa restrictions in case the bill is enacted.

13 May 2024, 15:08

EU foreign ministers request clarity over impact on Georgia’s EU accession 

According to RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, Rikard Jozwiak, 12 EU foreign ministers have written to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell requesting an oral update on how the foreign agent law would impact Georgia’s EU accession process — before the final vote on the bill in the Georgian parliament.

The bill is set to have it’s third and final reading in parliament this week.

13 May 2024, 14:45

Student protests heat up

Groups of students at the Shota Rustaveli University and Maritime Academy in Batumi, the Kutaisi International University and Akaki Tsereteli University in Kutaisi, and State University in Akhaltskikhe have boycotted classes  in protest of the foreign agent bill. 

In Tbilisi, large numbers of students from all major universities are holding protest marches; some of them have already joined protesters outside the parliament. Only one among them, the University of Georgia, have suspended studies for a week. 

13 May 2024, 13:09

EU foreign affairs committee chairs meet with opposition

According to the local media, opposition politicians are meeting the foreign relations committee chairs of several EU member states visiting Tbilisi. Among them are the chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Estonia. 

According to opposition politicians, one of the main topics of the meeting will be the draft foreign agent law.

The speaker of the parliament of Georgia, Shalva Papuashvili, was also due to meet with the delegation. However, on Friday, he stated that ‘it is still not a good time to have a substantive conversation’ because of the parliamentary proceedings of the foreign agent bill were continuing.

13 May 2024, 10:31

Special Investigative Service to investigate excessive use of force by police

Special Investigative Service has launched an investigation into reports of excessive use of violence by the police.

They did not specify which timeframe of the protests, which had been going on for over a month now, they were investigating.

13 May 2024, 10:23

Reduces police presence around parliament and on Freedom Square

Riot police stationed around parliament and on Freedom Square appear to have left their positions, with police stationed on Chitadze, one of Parliament’s side streets, retreating as protesters slowly push into the street.

13 May 2024, 09:59

Police: 20 detained, including two Americans and one Russian

The police have confirmed that they detained 20 protesters today at parliament on charges of hooliganism and disobeying police, among them one Russian and two American nationals. 

They said that one of the American detainees refused to tell the police their name, and asked to contact the US Embassy in Georgia.

13 May 2024, 09:15

Legal Affairs Committee approves draft foreign agent bill in less than two minutes

Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee commenced its hearing of the draft foreign agent law and approved it in less than two minutes by a show of hands.

It approved the draft bill as police violently assaulted and detained protesters gathered outside of parliament.

The Interior Ministry announced it was clearing protesters gathered around the building to access MPs into the building.

13 May 2024, 08:04

Universities begin strike

Student groups and lecturers from a number of Georgia’s largest universities over the weekend announced their intention to strike from 09:00 today. 

Following an announcement on Saturday by a student group from Tbilisi State University (TSU), groups from more than 20 other universities including Ilia State University, the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA), the University of Georgia, Georgian Technical University, Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University, and Tbilisi State Medical University have announced their intention to join the strike. 

A number of lecturers and alumni, including reportedly at least 150 lecturers from TSU, have also voiced their support for the strikes, and their intention to join. 

13 May 2024, 07:22

Legal Affairs Committee session to begin at 09:00

The draft foreign agent law will go to its third legal affairs committee session at 09:00. The Interior Ministry has announced that it intends to clear the parliament’s entrances of protesters by that time, with at least two out of three major entrances already cleared.

13 May 2024, 07:19

Police beat and push protesters

Police are forcefully pushing protesters in an effort to clear the back and side of Georgia’s parliament, beating at least one protester.

13 May 2024, 06:25

Police clear protesters from side and rear entrance of parliament

Georgia’s Interior Ministry has called on demonstrators against the foreign agent bill to vacate the entrances of parliament to allow MPs and parliament staff to enter the building. Masked police have begun to move demonstrators and journalists behind parliament, with several confrontations. Local media reported that at least one person was arrested.

13 May 2024, 06:22

Key events from yesterday

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze held a briefing in which he stated that the ruling Georgian Dream party would adopt the foreign agent draft law, describing that as ‘the execution of the will of the Georgian society’.

He defended the assertion by claiming that studies had found that over 80% of Georgia’s population supported financial transparency of non-governmental organisations, with more than 60% supporting the foreign agent draft law. 

Kobakhidze also warned protesters that ‘violence will not go unpunished’. 

An hour later, President Salome Zourabichvili held a briefing proposing that the ruling party postpone the implementation of the law to 1 November, after the parliamentary elections. She added that the law ‘is Russian, will remain Russia, and, unfortunately, you [the ruling party] are too with this law’. 

Zourabichvili also appealed to police to refrain from ‘repression, violence, [and] inventing conspiracies’. 

Shortly afterwards, Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri held a briefing warning demonstrators that attempts to block the entrance of parliament would be punished with up to four years in prison. 

He added that Article 222 of the Criminal Code — relating to blocking ‘an object of strategic or special importance’, transport, or communication — would be enforced ‘without any exception’. Blocking transport is punishable with up to eight years of imprisonment. 

Late on Sunday evening, thousands gathered in front of parliament to spend the night in the street, before committee hearings of the draft foreign agent law begin on Monday morning. 

During the day, military blogger Ucha Abashidze and his wife, Mariam Iashvili, were remanded to pre-trial detention in a closed session, with the hearings of their case set for 2 July. Abashidze was detained and his flat raided on Friday, with a number of protesters against his detention arrested. 

According to the prosecutor’s office, both were charged with illegally obtaining and storing private material, with Abashidze also accused of illegally acquiring and storing weapons.