Georgia’s Foreign Agents Law Poses New Threat to Human Rights Defenders

Last week, Georgia’s government passed a Russian-style ‘foreign agents’ law that targets the country’s civil society and human rights defenders (HRDs). The new law jeopardizes Georgia’s chances of joining the European Union, an aspiration for most of the country.   

Since parliament first passed the controversial law in mid-May 2024, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in the country’s capital Tbilisi to protest the law. The government has carried out a violent response against protesters, including illegal use of force by police, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and other forms of ill-treatment in custody. 

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili sided with the protesters and refused to sign the bill, calling it “Russian law” that “contradicts our constitution and all European standards.”  

But on May 28, the President’s veto was overridden by a majority in Parliament led by the governing Dream party. The President addressed protesters after the vote, saying “You are angry today and rightly so, but let’s get to business,” pledging to hold a referendum on “whether we want European future or Russian slavery.”  

Parliamentary speaker Shalva Papuashvili of the Georgian Dream party will now sign the bill into law. The founder and honorary chairman of the Dream Party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is the richest man in Georgia with alleged close ties to Russia. He accuses NGOs of being agents of the West plotting to overthrow the government and “turn Georgia into a second front” with Russia.  

Under the law, NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20% of their funds from donors outside the country must register as “agents of foreign influence.” It also establishes punitive fines for violations and extensive disclosure agreements, forcing organizations to share sensitive information.  

The EU has condemned the law, saying it “goes against EU core principles and values” and will negatively impact the country’s path to EU membership. The United States recently announced a travel ban on politicians from the Georgian Dream party who the State Department described as “complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia” and “responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation.” 

Georgia is not the only country in the region to mimic a Russian foreign agents’ law passed in 2012. In May, I published a report for Human Rights First on democratic backsliding in Hungary, where a similar law is being used to target and criminalize HRDs and NGOs.  

These laws have devastating consequences for HRDs. In Russia, the law has been used to silence and jail dissent, effectively crushing much of civil society. In Hungary, where HRDs already face government smear campaigns, targeted social media attacks, surveillance, and other challenges, the law threatens HRDs with criminal penalties for carrying out their work. Kyrgyzstan also adopted a Russian-style foreign agents law in April 2024, adding pressure to civil society. 

In 2023, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor visited Georgia and released a report on systematic efforts by Georgian authorities to undermine HRDs. The Special Rapporteur raised concerns over harmful anti-NGO rhetoric from members of the government and parliament and criticized social media smear campaigns against HRDs.  

“I am very concerned about what appears to be systemic impunity for attacks and harassment against human rights defenders, including women and LGBTQI defenders, as well as unjustified surveillance,” said Lawlor.  

The passage of the foreign agents law in Georgia marks a major step backward for the rights of HRDs. It also represents an alarming regional trend of aligning with Russia and shifting away from European and Western allies.  

With upcoming national elections in Georgia in October, critics fear that the foreign agents law will be used to silence dissent and intimidate NGOs.   

HRDs in Georgia need more support and solidarity than ever before as they defend their country’s democracy against authoritarianism.  

“Georgia has an extremely strong, vibrant, determined and diverse civil society that has grown over time and should be considered as part of the country’s pride,” said Lawlor. “The Georgian Government should fully live up to its international human rights obligations and commitments, and treat human rights defenders as allies, not enemies.”



  • Maya Fernandez-Powell

Published on June 5, 2024


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