Georgia's parliament votes to approve so-called 'Russian law' targeting media in first reading

TBILISI, Georgia — Georgia’s parliament has voted in the first reading to approve a proposed law that would require media and non-commercial organizations to register as being under foreign influence if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

Thousands gathered outside parliament to protest. Opponents say the proposal would obstruct Georgia’s long-sought prospects of joining the European Union. They denounce it as “the Russian law” because Moscow uses similar legislation to stigmatize independent news media and organizations seen as being at odds with the Kremlin.

“If it is adopted, it will bring Georgia in line with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus and those countries where human rights are trampled. It will destroy Georgia’s European path,” said Giorgi Rukhadze, founder of the Georgian Strategic Analysis Center.

Although Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili would veto the law if it is passed by parliament in the third reading, the ruling party can override the veto by collecting 76 votes. Then the parliament speaker can sign it into law.

The bill is nearly identical to a proposal that the governing party was pressured to withdraw last year after large street protests. Police in the capital, Tbilisi, used tear gas Tuesday to break up a large demonstration outside the parliament.

Wednesday had an even larger rally. Speaking there, opposition parliament member Aleksandre Ellisashvili denounced lawmakers who voted for the bill as “traitors” and said the rest of Georgia will show them that “people are power, and not the traitor government.”

The only change in wording from the previous draft law says non-commercial organizations and news media that receive 20% or more of their funding from overseas would have to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” The previous draft law said “agents of foreign influence.”

Zaza Bibilashvili with the civil society group Chavchavadze Center called the vote on the law an “existential choice.”

He suggested it would create an Iron Curtain between Georgia and the EU, calling it a way to keep Georgia “in the Russian sphere of influence and away from Europe.”

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