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Live updates | Georgia’s foreign agent bill goes to plenary session 

16 April 2024
Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

People are set to gather for a second day of protests as the foreign agents bill is expected to go to its first plenary hearing, a day after the Georgian Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee greenlit the controversial law. The bill was advanced amidst upheaval in parliament and as tens of thousands protested outside. 

Read more:

17 Apr 2024, 02:39

We are wrapping up our coverage for today. Come back tomorrow for more on the fallout of tonight’s violence, and the foreign agent bill's progress in parliament.

You can read a summary of today’s events here.

17 Apr 2024, 02:40

Only around 100 protesters now remain outside parliament. Protests are again expected tomorrow, as the first reading on the draft foreign agent law continues.

17 Apr 2024, 01:11

More footage of police violence emerges

Footage has been posted online that appears to show Georgian riot police chasing protesters down a side street near parliament. An officer is seen pushing a protester to the ground, who then lies motionless.

17 Apr 2024, 01:01

Journalists pushed and ‘called faggot’ by police

Several journalists were attacked by police during their recent surge.

A journalist Georgian from queer news website Aprili told OC Media that riot police pushed him, injuring him, and called him a ‘faggot’.

Publika journalist Aleksandre Keshelashvili also was attacked by police, Publika reported.

Tabula reported that one of their journalists, Giorgi Badridze, was also attacked by riot police. They said the police took away his personal phone, after which Badridze continued to use an office phone, which riot police also tried to take away but returned to him.

17 Apr 2024, 00:40

Police attack protesters 

Riot police have charged protesters without warning, making arrests. OC Media witnessed officers beating and kicking several people as they lay on the ground.

Police also attacked several journalists who had visible press identification.

16 Apr 2024, 23:25

President Zourabichvili appeals to Macron

According to IPN, President Salome Zourabichvili has appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel to discuss the current political crisis in Georgia at the Special European Council planned for 17–18 April.

16 Apr 2024, 23:23

Eleven people arrested

The Interior Ministry has confirmed 11 arrests at the anti-government demonstration near parliament. They said protesters had physically confronted police officers and threw stones and bottles at them, after which the authorities deployed pepper spray.

Irakli Kupradze, one of the leaders of the opposition Lelo party, was among those arrested.

16 Apr 2024, 23:03

Public Defender calls on police to act with ‘proportionality’ 

The Public Defender of Georgia has made a statement, has called on police to ‘ensure the protection of the freedom of expression and assembly’.  

‘The Public Defender of Georgia emphasises once again that interfering with freedom of assembly is permissible only if the action takes a violent and/or illegal turn, at the same time the use of force must meet the strict test of necessity and proportionality’, they wrote.

‘The Public Defender of Georgia calls on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ensure the protection of the freedom of expression and assembly of all citizens in a safe environment, and in case of the use of force, to follow the relevant international standards’.

16 Apr 2024, 22:59

Japanese Language & Culture Centre offers shelter to protesters

The Japanese Language & Culture Centre has posted on Facebook inviting protesters to seek shelter in their office, located behind parliament.

‘Dear citizens, the doors of our office are open for you until 00:00. If [the police uses] tear gas, or if you don’t feel well, [or are] thirsty, you can use our space as a shelter’, they wrote.

‘We don’t have a very big space, but we will welcome you with all our hearts’.

16 Apr 2024, 22:26

Standoff continues

Police have pushed protesters from behind parliament, they remain in front and on one side of the building. The situation remains tense, with protesters continuing to face off with riot police.

Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.
Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

16 Apr 2024, 22:25

Police using pepper spray against protestors in Tbilisi.

16 Apr 2024, 22:20

President Zourabichvili condemns the draft law again

President Salome Zourabichvili has posted on X condemning the authorities for pursuing the foreign agent law, calling it a ‘Russian strategy of destabilisation’.

‘[The] Insistance [sic] of the authorities to push through this law against the will of the population and despite partners protest is a direct provocation’, she wrote.

16 Apr 2024, 22:04

Interior Ministry ‘reiterates calls’ for protesters to follow police instructions

The Interior Ministry has said it ‘reiterates calls’ for protesters to follow police instructions. They said one police officer had been injured. 

‘In case if rally participants continue their illegal actions, the Ministry of Internal Affairs will administer special measures defined by law’, they said.

‘The Agency would like to note once again that each illegal action will be followed by appropriate legal response from the police.’

16 Apr 2024, 21:57

Police tell crowd to disperse 

Riot police have moved in to clear protesters behind parliament, ordering them to disperse.

16 Apr 2024, 21:43

Riot police engage protesters

Riot police have engaged protesters behind parliament, with a water cannon brought forward. People have begun throwing water at police. Someone has thrown yellow paint on the riot police. Police have deployed pepper spray.

Journalists are also being moved away.

16 Apr 2024, 21:30

Officials booed

The crowd behind parliament is booing people seen walking inside parliament, with several eggs thrown at the building.

16 Apr 2024, 21:21

Protesters move to back of parliament

Several thousand protesters have also gathered behind parliament, essentially closing off three of four entrances to the building. Activist Tamar Jakeli called for ‘those who are physically able’ to take back routes to reinforce crowds behind parliament. 

Several cars, presumably carrying ruling party MPs ,have been seen escaping from the last remaining entrance.

16 Apr 2024, 21:09

Parliamentary session over

Today’s parliamentary session has come to a close, with no vote on the draft law.

16 Apr 2024, 21:08

Parliament’s website blocked abroad

Social media users outside Georgia have pointed out that the Georgian Parliament’s website, where today’s session was broadcast, is unavailable outside Georgia.

OC Media has confirmed that the website is unavailable in several European and other countries.

16 Apr 2024, 20:54

Interior Ministry: blocking entrances of administrative buildings is illegal

The Interior Ministry has called on protesters around parliament to ‘protest peacefully’ and to refrain from blocking the entrances of the building.

‘According to the Law of Georgia “On Assemblies and Manifestations”, blocking the entrances of administrative bodies is forbidden’, they stated. ‘Any violation will be immediately foiled by the police which will be followed by appropriate legal actions.’

16 Apr 2024, 20:48

Riot police deployed

Riot police and a water cannon have been deployed outside parliament. So far they have not engaged with protesters, who continue to face off with the patrol police.

16 Apr 2024, 20:28

Social Justice Center: Georgian Dream cannot pass the law before June

The Social Justice Center’s director for democracy and justice, Guram Imnadze, has told OC Media that Georgia’s Parliament can only hold hearings for the draft once every other week in Parliament.

‘The earliest date for the enactment of the draft is early June. But if Georgian Dream decides, they can prolong the discussions around the draft and finalise it in the autumn’, said Imnadze.

Asked about yesterday’s Legal Affairs Committee hearings, Imnadze said that civil society organisations were allowed to attend the meeting in ‘limited numbers’, while ‘regional [media organisations] were banned from the hearing, while they are directly affected by the draft’.

Imnadze added that the committee hearing was rife with ‘provocations and verbal attacks’, and that MPs from the ruling party had ignored questions posed by representatives of civil society organisations about the bill.

16 Apr 2024, 20:23

Charles Michel: the foreign agent law will ‘bring Georgia further away from the EU’

The President of the EU Council, Charles Michel, has said that Georgian Dream’s foreign agent bill was inconsistent with ‘Georgia’s EU aspirations and its accession trajectory’ and would distance Georgia from the EU. 

16 Apr 2024, 20:20

Riot police have locked the side gates of parliament

The side gates of parliament were locked as thousands of protesters massed around the building.

16 Apr 2024, 20:07

Protesters block Rustaveli Avenue

Protesters have blocked Tbilisi’s main central street, Rustaveli Avenue. 

Tbilisi's central Rustaveli Avenue. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

16 Apr 2024, 19:59

Opposition tussles with police by parliament 

Thousands of protesters are gathered outside Georgia’s parliament, chanting, whistling, and waving banners, as the debate in parliament continues. A heavy police presence is currently blocking the crowds from accessing some streets around the building.

Around 20 minutes ago, a section of the crowd pushed against a line of police, with a number of leading opposition figures including Nika Melia and Nika Gvaramia visible at the forefront of the confrontation. 

Protesters by parliament. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

16 Apr 2024, 19:30

Cultural representatives march to parliament

Dozens of Georgian cultural representative have marched to the parliament, carrying a banner which reads ‘The river of people flowing from the heart of the country won't be stopped’.

16 Apr 2024, 19:24

MP, former general: Withdraw the bill before someone gets killed

Opposition MP from UNM and the former Chief of Joint Staff (2009–2012) Devi Chankotadze has urged the ruling party to backtrack on their attempt to pass the controversial law, a year after they were forced to fail it. 

‘I’m advising you, as an individual, as [former] military, as a [retired] general: withdraw this bill. This will have very bad consequences [...] if even one person dies, it will end badly’, Chankotadze warned.

Devi Chankotadze in parliament today. Screenshot via Parliament

16 Apr 2024, 18:59

Pro-government TV calls on diplomats to support them in face of ‘large-scale attack’

Pro-government TV company Imedi has published an appeal to ‘the diplomatic corps’,  claiming that their journalists were subject to an ‘ongoing large-scale attack’ and ‘bullying’ by both ‘the radical opposition’ and associated media and civil society organisations. 

It added that images of their journalists had been displayed in ‘photos on the central avenue of the city’, their public image slandered on social media, and their professional work obstructed.

In the past month, large numbers of posters have appeared in central locations in Tbilisi, featuring various leading civil society figures opposed to the government’s recent activity, branding them ‘enemies of the state’. In the past day, parliamentary speaker Shalva Papuashvili banned journalists from online media from entering parliament, and government-associated Facebook pages shared images of independent media representatives, branding OC Media’s editor in chief an ‘inciter of violence’. 

16 Apr 2024, 18:35

Ten protesters remanded to pre-trial detention, physical abuse reported

The Interior Ministry has confirmed that of 14 people detained at yesterday’s protest, 10 have been remanded to pre-trial detention. 

While the Ministry emphasised that the detainees had ‘unlimited access’ to their attorneys, eight major local human rights groups quickly contested this claim. 

The group wrote that their lawyers were initially unable to access information about the location and condition of the detainees. 

Protesters and police outside parliament on Monday. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

‘Most of the detainees did not have the opportunity to properly communicate with their family members or lawyers’, they wrote. ‘In conversation with lawyers, [detainees] note that during their arrests, law enforcement officers abused them physically and verbally.’

Soon after the Ministry’s statement, Public Defender Levan Ioseliani reported that one of the detainees had visible ‘injuries on his body’ and that he would appeal to the Special Investigation Agency to investigate.

16 Apr 2024, 18:18

PACE appeals to Venice Commission to comment on foreign agents bill

Theodoros Rousopoulos, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has appealed to the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, for ‘an urgent opinion on the compliance with Council of Europe standards of the Georgian draft law on Transparency of Foreign Influence’. 

Earlier this month, PACE co-rapporteurs swiftly criticised Georgian Dream’s announcement that they were reintroducing the bill.

The PACE Monitoring Committee also requested the Venice Commission’s opinions on proposed constitutional amendments to prohibit ‘LGBT propaganda’. 

[Read more: Georgian Dream announces constitutional changes to outlaw queer ‘propaganda’ and gender transitioning]

16 Apr 2024, 16:26

First hearing of foreign agent law begins

MPs have voted to choose the ruling party’s version of the draft foreign agent law over alternatives provided by the opposition. The first of three hearings of the controversial law has now begun, and is expected to continue until 21:00. 

16 Apr 2024, 15:42

Georgian Dream-linked Facebook page attacks OC Media coverage

A Facebook page linked to the ruling party has attacked OC Media’s coverage of the draft foreign agent law. 

The post included an image of OC Media editor-in-chief, Robin Fabbro, with the words ‘inciter of violence’ stamped across it.

The image uploaded to the In Fact page.

‘❌ Online publication OC Media distributes video material on social media regarding the violent act of Aleko Elisashvili and tries to present the violence in a positive light’, the post says.

‘✅ #Inreality, this glorification of violence is the encouragement of violence.’

It went on to list two of OC Media’s institutional donors. OC Media lists all of its donors on its website.

16 Apr 2024, 15:20

Lithuanian Foreign Minister: ‘don’t derail that dream’

Gabrielius Landsbergis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, posted on X that ‘Georgia’s destination is Europe’.

‘Don’t derail that dream’, he said.

16 Apr 2024, 14:54

Lawyer claims police physically assaulted detainees 

Lasha Tkesheladze, a lawyer representing four of those arrested during yesterday’s demonstration, told local news agency IPN that his clients had sustained injuries after police physically assaulted the detainees.

‘My [clients] told me that they were abused; they have various injuries on their necks, heads, and backs. One of the detainees’ clothes were completely torn; all the detainees under my protection note that during the arrest, while going through the so-called corridor, they were beaten and abused.’ 

‘When they were brought into the isolation cell, they were examined, and there is an official document stating these people have injuries’, the lawyer said.

16 Apr 2024, 14:07

‘Georgia will have no friends except Putin’s Russia’: Akunin on foreign agent law

Boris Akunin, a well-known Russian-Georgian writer based in the UK, has issued a statement on the foreign agent law. 

Akunin, whose real name is Grigori Chkhartishvili, was born in Zestafoni, west Georgia, but moved to Moscow as a child. He notes in the statement that he feels a sense of being ‘not a real Georgian’, as he writes in Russian and does not speak Georgian, but states that a number of Georgian media outlets had contacted him for comment. 

Boris Akunin. Photo via Georgian Public Broadcaster

‘[You] must fear not the political opposition or the biting press, but Putinism’, wrote Akunin. ‘Fear not only invasion from outside but also invasion from inside. And this is exactly what is happening now. Putinism is trying to nestle in your home — on the initiative of your own government. You won’t be able to evict this invader later.’

‘It will eat away at Georgia like a cancerous tumour. We know, we’ve experienced [it]. First ‘foreign agents’, then the ‘fifth column’, then ‘terrorists and extremists’, and then Georgia will have no friends except Putin’s Russia. Welcome back under the wing of the double-headed eagle [of Russia’s coat of arms].’

In January 2024, Russia declared Akunin a foreign agent, with the writer earlier added to the Russian financial intelligence body's list of ‘terrorists and extremists’, in both cases for his criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

16 Apr 2024, 13:28

Protesters begin to gather

Several hundred protesters have already gathered behind the parliament building.

Protesters gathered behind parliament. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

16 Apr 2024, 13:24

Draft law plenary session begins

Georgia’s parliament has begun its first plenary discussion of the draft foreign agent law. Discussions are heated, with ruling party MPs demanding an apology from opposition MP Aleko Elisashvili, who on Monday punched parliamentary majority leader Mamuka Mdinaradze in parliament, and was then set upon and beaten, reportedly by a number of Georgian Dream MPs. 

Ruling party MP Davit Matikashvili stated that someone who ‘threw a punch’ would receive ten in return, and described Elisashvili’s actions as ‘insidious’ and ‘inhumane’.

16 Apr 2024, 12:39

Online media banned from parliament for a second day

Parliamentary speaker Shalva Papuashvili has announced that journalists from online media are once again banned from parliament. Journalists from online media outlets, including OC Media, were banned from entering parliament during Monday’s parliamentary session on grounds of ‘security’, with only TV journalists allowed to cover proceedings. 

Papuashvili claimed that journalists from online media outlets wanted to enter parliament to protest rather than to report, citing the example of a journalist from Publika who opened a protest poster in parliament. 

‘It is a violation of journalistic ethics when you use accreditation, enter the building, and instead of your activity, you state your civic or other position’, Papuashvili told TV reporters. 

16 Apr 2024, 12:01

Hearings and protests expected to resume from midday

The draft law is expected to be considered at its first plenary hearing today at noon. Protests are scheduled for 12:00 and 19:00.

16 Apr 2024, 11:39

Key events from yesterday

Tens of thousands of Georgians gathered to protest the ruling party’s foreign agent law, as it was being discussed by the parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee. Crowds were gathered from early evening until around midnight, when it was announced that the protests would resume today at noon. 

Online media outlets, including OC Media, were banned from the hearing by the Speaker of Parliament. 

The parliamentary session saw at least opposition members ejected from parliament, while opposition MP Aleko Elisashvili made headlines internationally after punching parliamentary majority leader Mamuka Mdinaradze. Elisashvili was reportedly beaten by ruling party MPs before being ejected from parliament, but remained defiant. On being greeted with cheers and hugs by protesters, he called on people to take to the streets and oust the government. 

Police arrested 14 protesters on charges of disorderly conduct and disobeying police.