TBILISI, GEORGIA (AP) – Georgia’s ruling party said yesterday it is withdrawing a draft law from the Parliament criticised as potentially stifling media freedom and civil society, after several days of massive protests against it in the capital.
The Georgian Dream party and its allies said they were withdrawing the proposed law, citing “controversy in society” it triggered.
The bill would have required media and nongovernmental organisations that receive over 20 per cent of their funding from foreign sources to register as “agents of foreign influence”.
The move comes after several days of mass protests in the country’s capital, Tbilisi.
The demonstrations culminated on Wednesday night, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the city centre.
Police brutally dispersed the rally, using water cannons and tear gas, and 133 protesters have been arrested, according to the country’s Interior Ministry.
Lawmakers said in a statement yesterday morning that “consultations were held between the political council of Georgian Dream, People’s Force and deputies of the parliamentary majority” and they acknowledged that the bill, which passed its first reading earlier this week, “has caused controversy in society”.
The statement argued, however, that the initiative was presented “in a negative light” and “a certain part of the population” was misled.
The proposed law did appear similar to one enacted in Russia in 2012 that has been used to shut down or discredit organisations critical of the government.
The bill’s authors said it was needed for the transparency of the work of entities financed by representatives of foreign states, but opponents saw it as potentially obstructing Georgia’s stated intention of joining NATO and the European Union (EU).
European Parliament members Maria Kaljurand and Sven Mikser, top figures in relations with Georgia, said the proposed law “goes directly against the Georgian authorities’ declared ambition to receive candidate status for EU membership”.
Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili had said she would veto the bill.
The EU delegation in Georgia yesterday welcomed the announcement of the withdrawal of the bill.
“We encourage all political leaders in Georgia to resume pro-European reforms, in an inclusive and constructive way and in line with the 12 priorities for Georgia to achieve candidate status,” the delegation’s statement said.