Georgian police used tear gas and water cannon against protesters Tuesday, March 7, as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in the capital Tbilisi to oppose a controversial “foreign agents” bill.
At one point a protester opposed to the law, which would impose registration requirements on media and NGOs with foreign ties, threw a Molotov cocktail at a cordon of riot police, according to television footage.
The demonstration took place after Georgian lawmakers earlier Tuesday gave their initial backing to the draft law, which is reminiscent of Russia’s legislation used to crack down on dissent. In 2012, Russia adopted a law that allows authorities to take action against NGOs, media outlets and others deemed “foreign agents”.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili expressed support for the demonstrators and vowed to veto the law. “I stand with you because you are representing today the free Georgia which sees its future in Europe and will not let anyone steal this future,” she said in a video from the United States where she is on an official visit.
The US embassy in Georgia called the legislation “Kremlin-inspired” and said it was incompatible with Georgia’s desire to join the European Union. “Today is a dark day for Georgia’s democracy,” the embassy said in a statement, adding that the legislation raises questions about “the ruling party’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration”.
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In Russia, the foreign agent label, which is reminiscent of the term “enemies of the people” of the Soviet era, has been used extensively by the authorities against political opponents, journalists and human rights activists accused of conducting foreign-funded political activities. According to recently amended Russian legislation, anyone “under foreign influence” or receiving support from abroad – not just foreign money – can be declared a “foreign agent”.