Some breaking news from Georgia, where the governing party has withdrawn the controversial draft law on foreign agents that had been the cause of days of protests on the streets of the capital Tbilisi. Many Georgians feared the legislation would restrict civil liberties.
In a statement, the governing party Georgian Dream accepted the bill had caused division in society. It had previously argued that the new law would root out people working against the interests of Georgia and its Orthodox Church. Let’s just show you the scene in the capital Tbilisi on Wednesday evening. You can see how big the disruption has been for a successive night. Riot police on the streets using tear gas, and projectiles being thrown. Let’s go to our correspondent in Tbilisi, Rayhan Dimitri, and just bring us up to date, Rayhan, on that development, that this draft law which caused so much controversy has been withdrawn just in the last hour.
Indeed, Karen. So the governing Georgian Dream party put up a statement in the last half an hour or so, and they said that they decided to withdraw unconditionally the proposed bill on foreign agents. This statement said that the ruling party saw that the adopted law caused differences of opinion in society, and they accused the opposition of misrepresenting the proposed bill and falsely labeling it as Russian law.
Well, this decision comes off the back of two days of mass protests here in the Georgian Capital that were violently suppressed by the police. But also, police officers have also suffered. More than 50 police officers have received all sorts of injuries last night. The process went on into the early hours, 4-5 a.m. local time, and protesters, when I was in the square yesterday, I saw really big crowds, tens of thousands of people defiantly standing there and saying that they will not go away anywhere until the government reverses its decision.
And also, I think it’s important to mention that there has been really widespread condemnation from the United States, from the EU. And this statement from the governing Georgian Dream party says that Georgia will maintain its peace and stability and will continue moving towards Europe.
Rehan, just explain why this bill caused so much concern among its opponents, and why they feared it represented pro-Russian interests prevailing in Georgia.
So many people here believe that it was a Russian-style law, despite the fact that the government said that it was kind of copied from similar U.S. legislation. Georgia is Russia’s neighbor. It had a war, it fought a war with Russia back in 2008, and most people, more than 80% of Georgians, want to see their country as part of the European family. That pledge is enshrined in the country’s Constitution. So, by adopting or approving the first reading of this bill, the government kind of indicated that perhaps it was moving back toward Russia.
That’s why people were so angry because Russia has a similar law. It adopted its foreign agent’s law in 2012 and over the years expanded the law to suppress any critical voices in Russia. People are labeled any blogger, media organization in Russia is labeled as foreign agents, and people saw that this law would do the same, and eventually would suppress Georgia’s vibrant civil society and free media. That’s why there was so much resistance, and that’s why tens of thousands of people came out in their eyes to defend their country’s freedom.