Protesters and police have clashed in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, following the passage of a controversial bill that critics say restricts press freedom and suppresses civil society.
Outside the parliament building, police used water cannons and pepper spray to disperse the crowds. Some demonstrators were observed coughing and falling to the ground, while others waved EU and Georgian flags.
According to the government, several officers were injured and police equipment was damaged. The bill, which would require non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as foreign agents, has received widespread international condemnation.
The opposition described it as a law in the style of Russia that would stigmatize and stifle Georgia's thriving civil society and independent media. Russia enacted its own "foreign agents" law in 2012, expanding it over time to target and repress NGOs and media funded by the West.
One of the protesters told sources that they did not want to be a part of the ex-Soviet Union. They wanted to be a part of the European Union and they wanted to be pro-West. Salome Zourabichvili, the country's president, says she supports the protesters, stating that they represent a free Georgia that sees its future in Europe. Inside the parliament building, however, 76 lawmakers from the ruling Georgian Dream party gave the new "transparency of foreign influence" bill their initial support.
On Monday, a committee hearing regarding the proposed legislation degenerated into a brawl.
Georgia would join Belarus, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan on the list of undemocratic and authoritarian post-Soviet states that have copied the Russian law restricting the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) if the bill were passed.
In Russia and Georgia, the term "agent" has historically meant "spy" and "traitor," lending a negative connotation to the work of civil society. It implies that they are acting for the benefit of foreign forces rather than the nation and society.
The US embassy released a statement characterizing Tuesday's election as "a dark day for Georgia's democracy." It added that the advancement of these Kremlin-inspired laws by the Georgian parliament was incompatible with the people's clear desire for European integration and democratic development.
The openly anti-Western People's Power movement, a close ally of the governing Georgian Dream party, introduced the two bills on the "transparency of foreign agents" and the "registration of foreign agents" in parliament. The group argued that the second bill was identical to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of the United States (FARA).
Georgian Dream supported the draughts, arguing that such legislation was essential for enhancing transparency.
At a press briefing on Tuesday evening, the chairman of the ruling party, Irakli Kobakhidze, responded to the embassy's statement by declaring that it was "a dark day for the radical opposition and its supporters."
The majority of protesters and the country's opposition fear that the adoption of this law will end Georgia's long-held desire to join the European Union. More than 80% of the population of Georgia supports the country's European perspective, which is also enshrined in its constitution.
Currently, Brussels is evaluating Georgia's application for EU candidate status. Tuesday evening, Josep Borrell, the head of EU foreign policy, stated that the proposed legislation was "completely at odds with EU values and standards."