UN urges Georgia to withdraw ‘foreign influence’ bill

UN urges Georgia to withdraw 'foreign influence' bill
UN urges Georgia to withdraw 'foreign influence' bill

The controversial bill has attracted wide criticism and led to daily protests in the capital, Tbilisi. The EU said the move could hurt Georgia’s prospects of one day joining the 27-member bloc.

Senior officials from the United Nations, European Union and United States have condemned Georgia’s attempt to pass a “foreign influence” law that critics say would muzzle independent media and rights groups.

“I urge Georgian authorities to withdraw this draft law, and to engage in dialogue, including with civil society and media organizations,” UN rights chief Volker Türk said on Thursday.

“Labeling NGOs and media outlets receiving foreign funding as ‘organizations acting in the interest of a foreign power’ poses serious threats to the rights to freedom of expression and association.”

Fresh protests broke out at multiple locations in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, on Thursday, drawing tens of thousands of people.

It follows similar protests outside the parliament building on Tuesday and Wednesday that were met with a police crackdown.

The proposed law would require organizations with more than 20% foreign funding to disclose their sources. But critics say it resembles Russia’s “foreign agent” law that has been used to crack down on free press and civil society.

Georgia’s European ambitions in jeopardy

Georgia is an official candidate to join the EU, but European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the country is now at a crossroads.

“I am following the situation in Georgia with great concern and condemn the violence on the streets of Tbilisi,” she said on social media.

“The Georgian people want a European future for their country. Georgia is at a crossroads. It should stay the course on the road to Europe”.

The European Union has condemned the bill, echoing criticism from the US and UN

The head of the European Commission’s enlargement directorate, Gert Jan Koopman, said the bill would hurt Georgia’s aspirations of one day joining the bloc.

“There are concerning developments in terms of legislation. The law … as it stands is unacceptable and will create serious obstacles for the EU accession path,” he told a news conference in Tbilisi.

The US ambassador to Georgia, Robin Dunnigan, also said the the Georgian government’s choices “have moved the country away from its Euro-Atlantic future,” while White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the US was “deeply concerned” about the new legislation.

A spokesperson for France’s Foreign Ministry said the bill “runs counter to the values on which the European Union is founded and to which the Georgian people have shown their deep attachment.”

What’s next for Georgia’s ‘foreign influence’ bill?

The bill has passed its first and second readings in Georgia’s parliament but it must still pass a third reading and be signed into law by the president.

Georgia’s pro-EU President Salome Zurabishvili is at loggerheads with the ruling Georgian Dream party and has vowed to veto the bill.

However, the party has enough seats in parliament to potentially override this.

Source: Dw

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