May 22, 2024

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Opposition leaders in Georgia urge the UK to oppose the Foreign Influence Bill

Opposition leaders in Georgia urge the UK to oppose the Foreign Influence Bill
  • Written by James Landale
  • BBC diplomatic correspondent

Video explanation, Watch: Clashes between police and demonstrators in Georgia over a controversial bill

Georgian opposition leaders have called on the UK to do more to oppose what they say is a crackdown on civil society in the former Soviet country.

They urged the Foreign Minister to show the ruling party that the international community is united against the proposals.

The draft Foreign Influence Transparency Law is expected to pass its final parliamentary hurdles in the coming days.

Opponents organized mass protests in the capital, Tbilisi, against the law.

The legislation would force NGOs and media outlets to register as “organizations serving the interests of a foreign power” if more than 20% of their funding comes from abroad.

The ruling Georgian Dream party says this measure will increase transparency and defend Georgia’s sovereignty.

But opponents say the government will use it to crush opposition votes and parties before general elections in October.

They say it is also aimed at disrupting Georgia’s ambition to join the European Union, which cannot accept the new law.

This legislation has been called the “Russian Law” because it is similar legislation that the Kremlin uses to silence its critics.

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Protesters believe the proposed law would impose Russian-style restrictions

The proposal brought tens of thousands of people to the streets in the small country on the eastern coast of the Black Sea.

The US has been vocal in attacking the bill, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan writing on X over the weekend that the US is “deeply concerned about democratic backsliding in Georgia.”

He said that the representatives must choose between “the Georgian people’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations or adopting a law on foreign agents similar to the Kremlin’s law, which contradicts democratic values… We stand with the Georgian people.”

In contrast, the United Kingdom was more discreet in expressing its opposition.

In a written parliamentary response quietly published last week, Europe Minister Nusrat Ghani said the UK ambassador in Tbilisi had “consistently expressed our concerns about the proposed law” in recent meetings with the prime minister and the president.

She said she discussed the issue herself with the Georgian ambassador in London last month.

Her only other public statements were 10 days ago, in a social media post in which she warned against “excessive use of force by police against peaceful protesters in Tbilisi,” which she said was “not consistent with democratic values ​​and threatens Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” “.

But Georgian opposition lawmakers want Ghani and Foreign Minister David Cameron to go much further.

Giorgi Vashadze, MP and leader of the Strategy Builder Party, said: “Lord Cameron was one of Georgia’s most prominent international supporters when we were invaded in 2008.

“We were grateful for his support, which contributed a lot to the morale of the country.

“As Secretary of State, I ask him to do the same to highlight the government’s attempts to suppress dissent during the election year,” he added.

Tina Bokochava, Georgian MP and parliamentary leader of the United National Movement, said: “These written answers show that the UK government was particularly concerned about the situation in Georgia.

“We now need to make these concerns public, so that the ruling party understands that the international community is united in opposing such authoritarian actions.”

A spokesman for the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told the BBC that the UK was “deeply concerned” about the Foreign Influence Bill.

They added, “The accompanying rhetoric and excessive force used by the police against the demonstrators raises deep concern.”

“We urge the Georgian authorities to exercise restraint in monitoring peaceful demonstrations.”

“The UK continues to work with the Georgian government and civil society organizations in Tbilisi, and our ambassador has continually raised our concerns about the proposed law to the Georgian government, most recently to the Prime Minister on 22 April.”

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