Tension and anxiety in Georgia as NGOs, press face ‘foreign agent’ label

2023-02-03. A bill set to mark NGOs and media organisations in Georgia that receive funding from abroad as ‘agents of foreign influence’ is gaining momentum in parliament, sparking fears of an authoritarian clampdown.

by Lucinda Jordaan | March 3, 2023

The draft law seeks to compel civil society groups and media organisations that receive over 20% of their income from abroad to register as ‘agents of foreign influence’, and to submit to monitoring by the Ministry of Justice, or face punitive fines.

Two versions of the draft law, submitted in mid-February, passed their first committee hearing on Thursday 2 May yesterday, despite protests by journalists and opposition MPs who fear for Georgia’s democracy.

Video clips of protestors gathering outside the hearings – and arrests by police – were posted across social media.

The extent and rapidity of this turn from the West — and the values it represents in Georgia — have not fully sunk in,” writes Mariam Nikuradze, Executive Director of Open Caucasus Media, highlighting her concerns in a recent blog.

“In just two years, Georgia has turned from an aspiring member of the European Union and NATO into an anti-Western and even verging on pro-Russian country, one where freedom of speech and freedom of the press is in mortal danger.”

The bill was submitted by People’s Power –  a pro-government group supporting a supposed Western conspiracy to drag Georgia into war with Russia.

The draft foreign agent law is similar to one passed by Russia in 2012, which has been used to suppress civil society and stifle criticism of the government.

The ruling party has confirmed that they will support the proposed law.

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