Georgia’s parliament on Friday dropped plans for a “foreign agents” bill that had triggered a major domestic political crisis and threatened to derail the Caucasus nation’s bid for closer ties with Europe.
Lawmakers voted against the legislation in the second reading on Friday, according to the Georgian parliament’s website, after the ruling Georgian Dream party pulled its support for the bill.
Tens of thousands of Georgians had taken to the streets in the capital Tbilisi for three consecutive nights of protest against the initiative, saying the government was trying to take the country in an increasingly authoritarian direction.
Police used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to disperse the protesters, who had amassed outside parliament in centre of Tbilisi, detaining dozens in the process.
The bill would have required non-government organisations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register with Georgia’s Justice Ministry as a Foreign Agent.
Opponents said it was reminiscent of a 2012 Russian law that the Kremlin has used extensively to crack down on civil society and independent media. The plans, pushed by the ruling party, bolstered domestic criticism of the government as being too close to Moscow, in contrast to Georgian public opinion, which is fiercely anti-Russian.
The government had defended the law as necessary to increase transparency in funding of non-government organisations and unmask critics of the powerful Georgian Orthodox Church. It rejected comparisons with Russian legislation.
In Friday’s vote, 35 lawmakers voted against the plans, one was in favour while a majority of the 112 parliamentarians present abstained.
The bill had cleared its first reading earlier this week after lawmakers brawled in the chamber during a debate on the initiative.
The proposals were widely criticised abroad, with European Union officials calling it incompatible with Georgia’s ambition to join the bloc. Both the EU and the United States welcomed the decision to drop the bill.
The Kremlin said it had no involvement whatsoever in the Georgian bill and rejected suggestions that it was Russian-inspired.
Georgian Dream lawmakers had said the bill was based on the United States’ own Foreign Agents Registration Act, which primarily covers lobbyists working directly for foreign governments. Washington has rejected the comparison.
Following Friday’s vote, Georgian Dream chairman Irakli Kobakhidze said the bill had at least raised awareness of the issues of foreign funding of groups in Georgia, according to the iMedi news outlet.
When it first announced plans to kill the bill, Georgian Dream indicated in a statement that it still wants to move ahead with some form of a “foreign agents” bill and said it would launch a public consultation to explain its ideas in more detail and garner public support.