Georgia’s governing party tries again to pass widely criticized foreign-agent law

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The governing party in the country of Georgia on Monday submitted to parliament a draft law calling for media and non-commercial organizations to register as being under foreign influence if they receive more than 20% of their budget from abroad.

The measure is nearly identical to a proposal that the governing Georgian Dream party was pressured to withdraw a year ago after large street protests.

Opponents of the measure denounce it as “the Russian law” because it is similar to a law that Russia uses to stigmatize independent news media and organizations seen as being at odds with the Kremlin.

Its foes also say that passing the law would obstruct Georgia’s aim of joining the European Union, which issued the country long-desired candidate status last year.

“Creating and maintaining an enabling environment for civil society organisations and ensuring media freedom is at the core of democracy. It is also crucial for the EU accession process,” Peter Stano, spokesman for the EU’s foreign-policy arm, said last week.

The law would require non-commercial organizations and news media that receive 20% or more of their funding from overseas to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” That phrase is the only change from the draft that was withdrawn last year, which said that relevant groups must register as “agents of foreign influence.”

About 150 protestors gathered outside the parliament on Monday as the bill was being submitted, but the opposition has called for larger demonstration on Tuesday, which Georgia observes as the Day of National Unity public holiday.

President Salome Zourabichvili would veto the law if it is passed by parliament, said her parliamentary representative Girogi Mskhiladze. But that veto might not be long-lasting. Zourabichvili’s term ends this year and under constitution changes the next president will be named by an electoral college that includes all members of parliament.

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