Following fierce non-stop protests around the country this week, Georgia’s parliamentary majority announced it had decided to withdraw the draft law “On the Transparency of Foreign Influence”.
“As a ruling power responsible to each member of society, we have decided to unconditionally withdraw the bill we supported, without any reservations,” read the joint statement of the political council of Georgian Dream, People’s Power and the parliamentary majority, released Thursday morning.
“We see that the adopted draft law has caused differences of opinion in society. The machine of lies was able to present the bill in a negative light and mislead a certain part of the public. The false label of ‘Russian law’ was attached to the draft law, and its adoption in the first reading was presented as a departure from the European course in the eyes of a part of the public.
“In addition, the radical forces were able to involve youth in illegal activities. We thank the heroic law enforcement officers who responded to the violence with patience and the highest standards.
“We should be most careful about peace and economic development in our country, as well as Georgia’s progress on the path of European integration. Therefore, it is necessary to spend the energy of each of our fellow citizens not on confrontation, but on the development of the country in the right direction.
“Considering all of the above, as a governing power responsible to each member of society, we have decided to unconditionally withdraw the bill we supported, without any reservations.
“As the emotional background subsides, we will better explain to the public what the bill was for and why it was important to ensure transparency of foreign influence in our country. To do this, we will start meetings with the population and let the general public know the truth about each and every detail of the matter.
“We act with the special responsibility that, as a ruling power, we owe to each member of society.
“Georgia will maintain peace and stability and continue moving towards Europe with dignity, which is the principle choice of Georgian society,” the statement said.
The EU Delegation welcomed the decision.
“We welcome announcement by the ruling party to withdraw draft legislation on “foreign influence.”
“We encourage all political leaders in Georgia to resume pro-EU reforms, in an inclusive and constructive way and in line with the 12 priorities for Georgia to achieve candidate status,” the Delegation said in a statement.
According to the decision of civil activists, the rallies on Rustaveli Avenue will continue.
Tsotne Koberidze, member of the Tbilisi City Council from the ‘Girchi – More Freedom’ party, noted at a joint briefing on Thursday that they will demand clarity from the ruling team on how they are going to withdraw the so-called draft law on agents.
Civil activists are also demanding the release of the detained protestors.
“There are many young people who do not trust Georgian Dream and who believe that we, the people, are the guarantor of the country becoming a part of the West. We demand two things: We need clarity on how they intend to withdraw this law, because their statements are vague, they cannot be trusted. And that those people who stood by us, fought with us and are now detained, are released. Until they are freed, Georgian Dream should not think they are off the hook. We will not stop until Georgia takes a guaranteed pro-Western course,” Koberidze said.
Parliament’s discussion of the draft laws on ‘agents of foreign influence’ sparked a wave of protests among Georgian society this week, with claims that the adoption of such a law will hinder democratic processes and the country’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
For several days, citizens, representatives of various media outlets and NGOs have been gathering in front of the Parliament building on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue in protest at attempts to adopt what they call a “Russian law.”
The situation was also tense inside the Parliament building, where several cases of physical and verbal confrontation took place between opposition and the ruling party MPs during the discussion of the above draft laws.
The police used tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray in repeated attempts to disperse the protesters on March 7 and 8, especially when some individuals began throwing molotovs, bottles and other objects at them and vandalizing the parliament building. Both citizens and law enforcement officers were injured.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the rallies were initially carried out relatively peacefully (for around 12 hours Tuesday and seven on Wednesday) in front of the legislative body, with speeches being given, flags waved, chants of “No Russian law!” shouted out, and the national anthem sung. Tensions were heightened on Tuesday night when rally participant and ‘Strategy Builder’ party MP Giorgi Vashadze called on the protesters to surround Parliament and blockade the entrances. Riot police filled both roads beside the parliament building and eventually pushed back the crowds with water cannons, pepper spray and sheer force of numbers. A repetition of the violence and back-and forward pushing was also seen throughout Wednesday night.
The employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs detained 133 individuals on violations that occurred during the manifestation. At time of going to press, 66 individuals are still being held, among them ‘Girchi – More Freedom’ leader Zurab Japaridze.
Release of the detained protesters will be one of the main demands of subsequent rallies on Rustaveli Avenue.
By Ana Dumbadze