oDR: Opinion

Georgia’s new foreign agent law puts the country on the verge of a human rights crisis

Moves to pass ‘foreign agent’ legislation targeting NGOs have provoked a political crisis in Georgia – but the worst is yet to come

Nino Ugrekhelidze Salome Chagelishvili
8 March 2023, 9.51am

Efforts to pass "foreign agent" legislation have been met with protests in Georgia


(c) Getty Images. All rights reserved

Two weeks have passed since Georgia’s civil society and independent media started agonising over and organising against a proposed law on “agents of foreign influence”.

On 7 March, despite ongoing protests and calls from Western partners, the Georgian Parliament passed the law in the first reading with 76 votes in favour and 13 against. Second and third hearings are set to be held. But given the significant margin of support inside parliament, the bill will most likely pass – unless the resistance of people in Georgia moves the needle.

It must be stopped.

If passed, the law will catalyse Georgia’s human rights crisis, hindering public mobilisation, solidarity and progress on social justice.

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The law will obligate non-governmental organisations and media outlets to register as “agents of foreign influence” if they receive funding from sources abroad, or what the bill frames as a “foreign power”. Civil society and media representatives will need to register as “foreign agents”, declare their income, or face fines of 25,000 Georgian lari (£7,800).

People’s Power, a small anti-Western fraction of the Georgian Parliament’s ruling Georgian Dream party, initiated the bill. On 2 March, the draft law passed its first committee hearing amids public protests and with 36 arrests. MPs further green-lighted the bill on 6 March.

Subsequently, Parliament misled the Georgian public about the date of the first reading – in order, it seems, to avoid mass demonstrations – and on 7 March it rapidly moved forward with passing the law. For the whole day and night, thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Tbilisi to peacefully protest the law. The demonstration quickly escalated into a riot police attack. The number of people injured and detained is currently unknown.

GettyImages-1247881692 (1)

(c) Getty Images. All rights reserved

The “foreign agents” legislation comes on the heel of an anti-Western turn by the ruling Georgian Dream party, which has resorted to openly targeting and mocking independent media and social justice activists in the country. Notably, since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Georgian government has framed its anti-Western discourse as a strategy for avoiding war in Georgia – which shares its northern border with Russia – as well. While the Georgian government claims it has the best intentions for democracy, sovereignty and rule of law, the law on “foreign agents” brings Georgia closer to Russian interests and political agenda than ever before.

The law and its underlying anti-rights agenda are noticeably similar to the “foreign agents” law in Russia and elsewhere. Foreign agent law has served as an instrument for governments to create a hostile environment for media and civil society, increase mass surveillance and harass social justice organisers.

These laws make it impossible for civil society and media to raise the alarm, oppose and openly criticise unlawful prosecutions, corruption or human rights violations. In other words, the law would ensure the self-preservation of the Georgian Dream government, maintaining its power by silencing critical voices. Alas, the proposed law is part of a years-long narrative that the Georgian government has been building against civil society and media.

What does Georgia’s proposed Foreign Agent law do?

Foreign agents will be required to register in a public registry, and the authorised governmental entities will be entitled to collect and access any information not only about agents themselves, but people in close relationships with them as well.

The Public Defender’s Office stated that the proposed law does not comply with international or domestic human rights standards and is incompatible with the basic principles of a modern democratic state.


Georgian Dream has increasingly framed NGOs and media as untrustworthy and unreliable, undermining their role in building Georgia as a democratic state. The extension of this discourse is the argument of the People’s Power party, which initiated the draft law. The party claims the law is necessary to further monitor and regulate civil society and media, questioning their transparency and good intentions.

Such harmful government-led rhetorics have helped to polarise public opinion. The new law further fuels the mistrust and negative sentiments towards independent media outlets and non-governmental organisations. Considering the diminishing connotation of “agents”, and the well-orchestrated attack on civil society’s public image, these narratives further crack the fragile bridge of trust that Georgian civil society has been building for decades.

As the measures target the sources of foreign funding of civil society and media, it will ensure a further severe underfunding of social justice organising, policy advocacy, holding government accountable and service provision of excluded communities. State funding for civil society in Georgia is limited and unaccessible, and the law is intended to destabilise and weaken its financial resilience.

By contrast, anti-rights organisers, pro-Russian political forces and media outlets are abundantly resourced. Under the impact of the law, such funding disparity will invigorate a critical and deeply alarming power asymmetry between those attacking democracy, and those at the forefront of its defence.

Now is the time for international solidarity that could prevent a crackdown on democracy in the country

The impact of the law will reach way further than just civil society and media, it will touch every single person living in Georgia. First and foremost, it will be felt by those communities that have been supported and assisted by non-governmental organisations. For example, forcibly displaced people, people with disabilities and chronic illness, survivors of domestic violence and abuse, and HIV-positive people, to name a few.

For years to come, Georgia will have to deal with the consequences of the proposed law, not just in terms of economic or socio-political crisis, but also as a failing state with crumbling democracy. The law will hinder any future attempt to build grassroots mobilisation and solidarity.

Today, as people of Georgia rally against the law and stand barehanded against police brutality, tear gas and robocops, the question of who can stop the Georgian Parliament and this harmful law is answering itself. It is not the opposition, the President, the freshly appointed Public Defender or Constitutional Court. The answer is clear: it is the people of Georgia who are pushing back against the law which has compromised our future.

People in Georgia are mobilising against the upcoming human rights crisis, hold the true power to express their righteous anger, and resist the rising authoritarianism with all their might. Now is the time for international solidarity that could prevent a crackdown on democracy in the country.

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