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US restricts visas for Georgia over ‘foreign agent’ bill

In News, World
May 24, 2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says measures will target individuals responsible for undermining democracy.

The United States will impose visa restrictions and review relations with Georgia over a controversial “foreign agent” bill that has sparked mass protests in the country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday the visa restrictions would apply to individuals responsible for undermining democracy in Georgia and their family members.

“US support for Georgia’s democracy is longstanding and foundational to our bilateral relationship. Anyone who undermines democratic processes or institutions in Georgia – including in the lead-up to, during, and following Georgia’s October 2024 elections – may be found ineligible for US visas under this policy and precluded from travel to the United States,” Blinken said in a statement.

Blinken said the proposed law would stifle Georgians’ freedom of association and expression and “impede independent media organisations working to provide Georgians with access to high-quality information”.

“It remains our hope that Georgia’s leaders will reconsider the draft law and take steps to move forward with their nation’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. As we review the relationship between our two countries, we will take into account Georgia’s actions in deciding our own,” he said.

The bill passed by the ruling Georgian Dream party last week requires nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and media outlets with more than 20 percent of their funding coming from outside Georgia to register as bodies “pursuing the interests of a foreign power”.

Organisations that do not comply with the measures will face fines of up to 25,000 lari ($9,200), followed by additional fines of 20,000 lari ($7,300) for each month of non-compliance thereafter.

Critics have accused Georgian Dream, which has been in power since 2012, of taking inspiration from Russian legislation used to quash dissent.

After the passage of the bill on May 14, thousands of protesters clashed with the police outside the parliament building in the centre of Tbilisi.

The US has urged Georgia to scrap the legislation, warning it could jeopardise its stated goal to join the European Union and establish relations with NATO.

Georgia applied to join the EU in 2022 and was granted candidate status in December last year.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, warned earlier this month that the legislation would be a “serious obstacle for Georgia in its European perspective”.

Backers of the legislation, who include Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, have argued the measures are necessary to promote transparency, combat “pseudo-liberal values” promoted by foreigners and safeguard the country’s sovereignty.

Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili on Saturday used her veto to block the bill, citing its incompatibility with the constitution.

Zourabichvili’s move is expected to only delay the legislation as the governing party has enough votes in parliament to override the veto in an upcoming vote.

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