July 19, 2024

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Georgia’s parliament speaker signs a bill that critics say limits media freedom

Georgia’s parliament speaker signs a bill that critics say limits media freedom

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The speaker of Georgia’s parliament said he signed a law on Monday that is a drawing measure Weeks of protests By critics who say it will limit media freedom and threaten the country’s chances of joining the European Union.

Parliament Speaker Shalva Babuashvili took action after the legislature, controlled by the ruling Georgian Dream party, overruled his veto of the bill. By President Salome Zurabishvili.

Lawmakers approved it last month. Measure Requires media outlets, NGOs, and other nonprofit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

Zurabishvili, who has become increasingly at odds With the ruling partyHe opposed the bill, accusing the party of endangering Georgia’s future and “obstructing the path toward becoming a full member of the free and democratic world.”

Gia Nodia, a Tbilisi-based political analyst, said the new law represents a “turning point” for Georgia.

“It is leading the country away from democracy and in an authoritarian direction,” he said.

The government says the law is necessary to stop what it sees as harmful foreign actors trying to destabilize the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people. Many journalists and activists say its real goal is to stigmatize them and restrict debate before parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Journalist Kitty Tutberidze said: “This law will stop and will kill Georgia’s future, and Georgia’s future in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

Opponents have condemned it as “Russian law” because it resembles measures taken by the Kremlin to suppress independent news media, non-profit organizations and activists. They say this action may be motivated by Moscow to thwart Georgia’s chances of further integration with the West.

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Zurab Japaridze, head of the opposition Girshi-More Freedom party, said the purpose of the law was to “cleanse this country of the non-state sector, critical media and opposition parties, and bring us to the reality that exists in Russia.”

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze dismissed the criticism as “unnecessary sentiments that have only an artificial basis.”

“Only those who are against our country have been defeated,” he said, adding that “the law has already entered into force and we all must act pragmatically, with a calm mind and put aside unnecessary emotions.”

Over the weekend, the opposition United National Movement said a mob of masked men attacked its central offices in Tbilisi, smashing windows and damaging property. She claimed that the attackers were linked to the ruling party. The Ministry of Interior opened an investigation into the damage to the property.

The legislation is almost identical to a measure that the ruling party was pressured to withdraw last year after massive street protests. Renewed demonstrations have swept Georgia again as the new bill reaches Parliament this time. The demonstrators clashed with the police, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.

After signing the bill, Babuashvili reiterated that its main goal is to “increase the resistance of Georgia’s political, economic and social systems to external interference.”

“If NGOs and media want to participate in the decision-making process and influence the lives of the Georgian people with funding from foreign governments, they must meet a minimum level of transparency – the public must know who is behind each actor.” He said.

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Babuashvili said that once the new law is published on Tuesday, the Ministry of Justice will have 60 days to complete the necessary formal procedures. Those affected by the law must then register and declare their funds for the past year.

The Civil Society Foundation of Georgia, a non-governmental group, said Thursday it was preparing to do so Challenge the legislation In the Constitutional Court of Georgia.

The EU’s foreign policy arm said the adoption of the law “negatively affects Georgia’s progress on the EU path.”

The EU offered Georgia candidate state status in December, while making clear that Tbilisi needed to implement key policy recommendations for its EU membership bid to advance.

After the bill was passed last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that travel sanctions would be imposed on officials “responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia.” He expressed his hope that the Georgian government would reverse course and “take steps to move forward towards realizing the democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations of its country.”

The United National Movement describes the law as part of Georgian Dream’s efforts to draw the country into Russia’s sphere of influence, a claim the ruling party angrily rejects. Georgian Dream was founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a former prime minister and billionaire who made his fortune in Russia.

Relations between the two countries have often been tense since Georgia’s independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In 2008, Russia fought a short war with Georgia, which made an unsuccessful attempt to regain control of the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Moscow then recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent states and strengthened its military presence there. Most of the world considers both regions to be part of Georgia.

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Tbilisi severed diplomatic relations with Moscow, and the status of the two regions remains a major source of concern even as relations between Russia and Georgia have improved in recent years.