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Georgia’s Foreign Agent Law Live | Venice Commission pans law

22 May 2024
A student protest against the foreign agent law on 20 May. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The Venice Commission has advised the Georgian authorities to repeal the foreign agent law, stating that it threatens fundamental rights and freedoms. 

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22 May 2024, 19:35

We’re ending our coverage for today.

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22 May 2024, 19:26

RFE/RL’s Europe editor: EU foreign ministers to discuss Georgia next Monday

RFE/RL’s Europe editor, Rikard Jozwiak, has said that EU Ambassadors today discussed ‘the situation in Georgia’, and that EU foreign ministers are set to discuss developments in the country next Monday ‘and even more thoroughly in June.’

22 May 2024, 17:20

Legal Affairs Committee chair: Venice Commission put its reputation on the line

Anri Okhanashvili, the chair of Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, told journalists that the Venice Commission ‘does not and cannot claim to [represent] the truth’.

‘If the Venice Commission has a new standard, that instead of a legal analysis, it is a commission evaluating street demonstrations, then it should be objective and consistent here as well. This is unfortunate because it affects the reputation of this institution’.

22 May 2024, 15:39

Council of Europe Secretary General calls on Georgian Dream to implement Venice Commission recommendations

Council of Europe’s Secretary General Marija Burićhas yesterday called on Georgian Dream to implement the Venice Commission’s recommendations ‘with a view of bringing the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence in line with European standards’.

22 May 2024, 15:21

RFE/RL: Washington has information that could destroy Georgia’s political elite

Citing anonymous sources in Washington, RFE/RL reported that work on the MEGOBARI (Georgian for ‘friend’) Act had been ongoing  for ‘several months’, as Congress expected that Georgian Dream would reintroduce the law after withdrawing it last year.

RFE/RL’s source said that the bill aimed to expose ‘Russian agents in the Georgian political elite, as well as cases of Chinese influence’.

‘[The US] has information that can destroy the reputation of representatives of the Georgian political elite’, said their source.

22 May 2024, 15:07

Lelo’s Khazardze: no UNM in alternative elections list

Lelo chair Mamuka Khazaradze stated yesterday that he supported the creation of an ‘an alternative centre without the United National Movement (UNM)’ for the upcoming parliamentary elections in October.

In an interview with TV Pirveli, Khazaradze appeared to draw parallels between the UNM and the ruling Georgian Dream party, saying that he did not ‘want to be associated with the power that has been running the country for the last twenty years’.

UNM chair Levan Khabeishvili criticised Khazaradze’s comments, stating on Pirveli that he did not think the Lelo chair’s ‘attitude is correct’.

‘[We] have been against this [Georgian Dream’s] regime for 12 years, in many cases we were alone in the opposition, I don’t think the attitude is right’.

Khazaradze last week called for the establishment of a ‘European platform of national resistance’ with President Salome Zourabichvili. For Georgia’s Giorgi Gakharia also did not rule out joining the initiative.

22 May 2024, 13:24

EU foreign ministers ‘to discuss restrictive measures’ next week

The Financial Times reported, that Estonia, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Sweden are pushing for sanctions against Georgia.

Citing ‘people briefed on the discussions’, they said the topic of ‘restrictive measures’ would be discussed at an EU foreign ministers meeting next week.

‘Options include revoking visa-free travel to the EU for Georgian nationals, targeted sanctions, and the freezing of EU funds’, they reported.

‘The EU is likely to move slower than Washington, as some countries are worried that suspending visa-free travel could backfire, since tens of thousands of Georgians draped in EU flags have been taking to the streets in recent weeks to protest against the law’, they reported.

Last month, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the EU Commission to ‘promptly assess’ the impact of the foreign agent law on Georgia’s fulfilment of the fundamental rights visa liberalisation benchmark — one of four benchmarks Georgia had to fulfil before being granted EU visa liberalisation in 2017.

22 May 2024, 12:36

Georgian Dream says Venice Commission opinion ‘unsubstantiated and contradictory’

The ruling Georgian Dream party held a briefing soon after the Venice Commission published its opinion, claiming their report was ‘saturated’ with political messages and lacked legal justification.

Georgian Dream MP Salome Kurasbediani, who fronted the briefing at the party’s office, stated that the Venice Commission was ‘made to write’ that the ‘transparency of non-governmental organisations and media outlets is bad and undemocratic’.

According to her, the conclusion of the Venice Commission confirmed that ‘there is no legal or other type of argument’ against the foreign agent law.

‘In the conclusion of the Venice Commission, we find a lot of unsubstantiated and contradictory legal arguments, as well as a number of gross distortions of facts, which encourages the radicalisation of specific groups’, she said.

‘It is disappointing that the platform of the Venice Commission has been used to make biased political assessments instead of professional judgment, which again and again damages the reputation of the Venice Commission’.

22 May 2024, 12:14

Venice Commission issues damning report

The Venice Comission last night issued a damning report on Georgia’s foreign agent law, slamming it as a violation of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy, and the principle of non-discrimination.

The urgent report from the comission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe composed of independent constitutional experts, came in response to a request by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The report said the law risked eliminating media and civil society organisations critical of the government.

‘The combined impact of burdensome registration and reporting requirements […]  along with severe administrative fines they may incur, constant surveillance, will with no doubt complicate and threaten the effective operation and existence of the organisations concerned’, the report stated. ‘The persistent and stigmatising obstacles concentrated in the hands of the state create a chilling effect.’

‘The Law, under the alleged aim of ensuring transparency, has the objective effect of risking the stigmatising, silencing and eventually elimination of associations and media which receive even a low part of their funds from abroad’, it reads.

‘A strong risk is created that the associations and media which come to be affected will be those who are critical of the government, so that their removal would adversely affect open, informed public debate, pluralism and democracy.’

The report concluded by strongly recommending that the government repeals the law ‘as its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for the freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination’. 

‘Ultimately, this will affect open, informed public debate, pluralism and democracy’, it reads. 

22 May 2024, 11:49

Key events from yesterday

  • Georgian Dream party’s political council stated that improvements in Georgian-American relations depend on the actions of the US, responding to reports by POLITICO and The Hill that Washington may propose both economic and security benefits, including visa liberalisation, to incentivise the Georgian government to drop the foreign agent law, as well as sanctions if they continue to pursue it. 
  • Tbilisi City Court found three protesters guilty of petty hooliganism and disobeying police at demonstrations against the foreign agent law. Imeda Kldiashvili was fined ₾2,200 ($800), Zviad Dalakishvili, ₾2,300 ($840) and Tornike Ketelauri, ₾2,200 ($800), Formula reported.
  • Germany’s Ambassador to Georgia, Peter Fischer said Berlin would vote against Georgia opening accession talks with the EU if the ruling party adopted the law.
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