Georgia’s Governing Party Plans to Withdraw Foreign Agents Bill After Protests

Facing mounting pressure from protesters, Georgia’s governing party said in a statement on Thursday that it had decided to withdraw proposed legislation on “foreign agents” that critics said mimicked a Russian law used by the Kremlin to thwart opposition news media outlets and civil society.

The decision came after a second straight night of large protests in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, with riot police officers using tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades to disperse a crowd after midnight. In a statement on Thursday, the police said they had detained 133 protesters on charges of petty hooliganism and disobedience during the two days of protests.

The proposal, which received initial approval in Parliament on Tuesday, would require Georgian news media outlets and nongovernmental organizations that receive a substantial amount of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence. They would face a hefty fine if they failed to comply.

Members of the Georgian opposition said the law was modeled on a similar piece of legislation introduced in 2012 in Russia aimed at pressuring civil society and pro-Western news media outlets. Protesters on the streets chanted, “No to the Russian law,” during the two nights of protests.

Georgia’s president, Salome Zourabichvili, joined protesters to denounce the legislation as a stealthy effort to introduce one of the most heavy-handed tools that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has used to squash dissent in his country. The measure that was under consideration in Georgia was also seen as hurting the country’s already stalled efforts to join the European Union.

Ms. Zourabichvili has distanced herself from the Dream party since they initially supported her campaign in 2018. Experts disagreed on how much the proposed “foreign agent law” represents a sign that Georgia has returned to Russia’s orbit of control or whether, for domestic political reasons after more than a decade in power, the governing party is adopting Mr. Putin’s well-tested methods for staying in power indefinitely.

A country of 3.6 million, Georgia fought a painful war with Russia in 2008. Since then, Moscow has maintained military control over about 20 percent of Georgia’s territory.

According to Mikheil Kechaqmadze, an analyst of Georgian politics, the governing party’s decision represents a “tactical victory” for the opposition and the country’s civil society. However, he said, it is not certain that “this page with this law is indeed closed.”

“There isn’t much trust between the government and its opponents,” he said.

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