Protests erupted in Tbilisi on Tuesday after Georgia’s parliament passed the first reading of a controversial draft law that would require some organizations receiving foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” Rights groups have criticized the law as curtailing basic freedoms in the country.
The court session was broadcast live on the legislature’s website.
“76 votes for, 13 against. The bill was adopted in the first reading,” said Speaker of the Parliament Shalva Papuashvili.
The bill must pass further readings in parliament to become law, but so far appears to have broad support among Georgian lawmakers despite criticism domestically and abroad.
Thousands of protesters could be seen outside the parliament building on Tuesday night, holding not just the Georgian flag but also European Union flags.
Some threw stones and petrol bombs, as security forces responded with tear gas and water cannon. Video posted on social media also showed protesters storming a barricade at the entrance to the parliament building and tearing it down.
Georgia’s Interior Ministry has asked protesters to disperse, warning that “legal measures” would be taken to restore calm.
“The protest action near the parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi has become violent. The protesters tried to block one of the entrances to the parliament, and there are facts of violence against the employees of the ministry,” read an Interior Ministry statement.
Protesters’ chants, with insults aimed at both Georgian politicians and Russian President Vladimir Putin, underline fears that the bill follows the model of a controversial law in neighboring Russia that has already imposed draconian restrictions and requirements on organizations and individuals with foreign ties.
The Georgian bill has been widely criticized as posing a potential chilling effect for Georgian civil society, and particularly NGOs and news organizations with links to Europe.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said that the bill would impede rights to freedom of expression and association in the country with onerous financial reporting requirements.
An EU statement Tuesday warned that the law would be “incompatible with EU values and standards” and could have “serious repercussions on our relations.”
In February, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price also said that “anyone voting for this draft legislation” could also imperil Georgia’s relationship with Europe and the West.