Georgian 'foreign influence' bill signed into law

Georgian 'foreign influence' bill signed into law

Georgian foreign influence bill signed into law

The speaker of Georgia's parliament said on Monday he signed into law a controversial "foreign influence" bill adopted despite mass protests, Western condemnation and a presidential veto.

Georgia's parliament adopted the divisive law last week, overriding a presidential veto on the measure, which critics say is anti-democratic and mirrors Russian legislation used to silence dissent.

Brussels has warned the move will derail the Black Sea nation from its path to European Union membership, and the United States has threatened to levy visa bans and sanctions on individuals over the law.

"I signed today the law on transparency of foreign influence, whose main goal is to strengthen the sustainability of Georgia's political, economic, and social systems," speaker Shalva Papuashvili said in a statement.

His signature is the final required stage for the bill to pass into law.

The measures force NGOs and media organisations that receive at least a fifth of their funding from abroad to register as "organisations pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

It has sparked nearly two months of daily mass protests that saw police use tear gas and water cannon to disperse rallies, beating and arresting demonstrators.

The ruling Georgian Dream faces mounting accusations of leading Georgia away from its Western trajectory and back to Russia's orbit.

But the party insists it is committed to Georgia's European aspirations and says the law will ensure "transparency" concerning Western-funded groups which it says undermine the country's sovereignty.

Dozens of Georgian rights groups and media organisations have vowed not to abide by the law and plan to appeal to the country's constitutional court and the European Court of Human Rights.

Georgian activists, independent journalists and opposition politicians accuse the government of a concerted campaign of violence and threats against NGO leaders.

Tensions are running high in the Caucasus country ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

The upcoming vote is seen as a key democratic test more than three decades after Tbilisi gained independence with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Georgia's bid for EU membership is enshrined in its constitution and supported — according to opinion polls — by more than 80 percent of population.

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