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Georgia's parliament passes controversial "foreign agent" law amid protests, widespread criticism

Georgia bill could imperil EU membership plan
Turmoil in Georgia over bill resembling Russian legislation | 60 Minutes 01:07

Georgia's parliament has passed a law that critics see as a threat to media freedom and the country's aspirations to join the European Union — and a step toward the kind of draconian laws that have quashed political dissent in neighboring Russia

In backing the so-called "foreign agent" law, Georgia's parliamentarians defied weeks of large demonstrations in the capital against the legislation, which also saw thousands of people vent their anger at Russia.

Tens of thousands of protesters shut down a major intersection in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Tuesday, Reuters reported, and protesters gathered again outside the parliament on Wednesday. 

The law will be sent to the president before it can go into effect, and President Salome Zourabichvili — increasingly at odds with the governing party — has vowed to veto it, but the ruling Georgian Dream party has a majority sufficient to override her veto.

Below is a look at the divisive law and why there's so much angst about it.

What does the "foreign agent" law do?

The law would require media, nongovernmental organizations and other nonprofits to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power" if they receive more than 20% of funding from abroad.

Protesters rally against the "foreign influence" law outside the parliament in Tbilisi on May 15, 2024. GIORGI ARJEVANIDZE/AFP/Getty

The law is nearly identical to the one that the governing Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw last year after similar protests. This version passed its third and final reading in parliament on Tuesday.

The governing party says the law is necessary to stem what it deems as harmful foreign influence over Georgia's political scene and prevent unidentified foreign actors from trying to destabilize it.

The opposition denounces it as "the Russian law" because Moscow uses similar legislation to stigmatize independent news media and organizations critical of the Kremlin. Opposition lawmakers have accused the governing party of trying to drag Georgia into Russia's sphere of influence.

What are Georgia's relations with Russia?

Russia-Georgia relations have been strained and turbulent since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and Georgia's departure from its role as a Soviet republic.

In 2008, Russia fought a brief war with Georgia, which had made a botched attempt to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Moscow then recognized South Ossetia and another separatist province, Abkhazia, as independent states and strengthened its military presence there. Most of the world still considers both regions to be parts of Georgia.

Tbilisi cut diplomatic ties with Moscow, and the two regions' status remains a key irritant even as Russia-Georgia relations have improved in recent years.

The opposition United National Movement accuses Georgian Dream, which was founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a former prime minister and billionaire who made his fortune in Russia, of serving Moscow's interests — an accusation the governing party denies.

What is the EU's position?

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the parliament's decision as "a very concerning development" and warned that "final adoption of this legislation would negatively impact Georgia's progress on its EU path." 

Borrell earlier said the law was "not in line with EU core norms and values" and would limit the ability of media and civil society to operate freely.

European Council President Charles Michel said after the law was passed that "if they want to join the EU, they have to respect the fundamental principles of the rule of law and the democratic principles."

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