Tbilisi, Mar 8 (EFE).- At least 66 demonstrators have been detained in Georgia after protests broke out following the approval of a controversial draft law on individuals and organizations that get over a fifth of their funding from abroad, the country’s ministry of internal affairs reported on Wednesday.
The protests took place on Tuesday night near the Georgian parliament in the capital Tbilisi over a foreign agents bill critics say will limit press freedoms and suppress civil society organizations, and which has been likened to legislation approved in Russia.
The ministry of internal affairs has launched an investigation into the protest that broke out in Rustaveli Avenue where 66 people were arrested for alleged public disorder and disobedience, the statement said.
Georgian authorities said protestors “started an organized attack on the parliament building” hurling “Molotov cocktails and pyrotechnics” and defended its actions “to restore public order and foil violations of the law.”
If approved, the new bill would require individuals, civil society organizations, and media outlets to register with the justice ministry as “agents of foreign influence” if they receive at least 20% of their funds from abroad.
Hundreds of protesters gathered near parliament to protest the move carrying stones, bottles and sticks as they attempted to storm the government building.
Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili publicly expressed her support for the protests via video link from New York.
“I appeal to those who are now standing on Rustaveli tonight, as they have stood many times. I’m standing here in New York with the Statue of Liberty behind me. This is the symbol that Georgia has always fought for. I am with you. Today it is you who represent free Georgia,” she said.
The president added that the law could have only been drafted “at Moscow’s behest” and that “this law must be revoked.”
“Georgia, which sees its future in Europe, will not allow anyone to take this future away. This future belongs to the next generation. This is the future that the previous generations laid the groundwork for, that laid the groundwork for, too. No one has the right to take your future from you. No one has the right to set a trap,” Zourabichvili said.
The leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, said after the protests that the foreign agent bill had already been sent for review to the Council of Europe Venice Commission and said discussions would continue after the European Commission for Democracy through Law had reviewed the draft bill.
HRW director for Europe and Central Asia, Hugh Williamson has said that “the ‘foreign agent’ bills seek to marginalize and discredit independent, foreign-funded groups and media that serve the wider public interest in Georgia.”
“They clearly aim to restrict critical groups and crucial media, violate Georgia’s international obligations, and would have a serious chilling effect on groups and individuals working to protect human rights, democracy, and the rule of law,” Williamson warned. EFE