Home Europe Georgia confirms dozens detained at pro-EU protest as condemnation grows over crackdown

Georgia confirms dozens detained at pro-EU protest as condemnation grows over crackdown

by editor

TBILISI — Georgia is braced for yet another day of major public demonstrations in opposition to the government’s controversial ‘foreign agent’ law, with Western politicians and local officials expressing grave concern after police used force to shut down a peaceful rally Tuesday night.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday morning, deputy internal affairs minister Aleksandre Darakhvelidze confirmed a total of 63 people were arrested Tuesday evening on charges of hooliganism and disobeying police, while claiming six police officers were injured. Thousands of people took to the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, in one of the largest protests to date against the ruling Georgian Dream party’s proposed restrictions on civil society.

Security forces used tear gas and riot shields to disperse the crowds gathered outside the parliament building, with widespread reports of people being beaten by officers and reports that at least one senior opposition politician was left critically injured following the clashes.

Georgia’s human rights ombudsman, Levan Ioselian, has since issued a statement condemning the police response as having “contradicted the standard of necessary and proportionate intervention.” The public defender called for an investigation into the use of “disproportionate force” and apparent targeting of journalists covering the events.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Tbilisi, Georgian Dream politician Kakha Kaladze, blamed protesters for having blocked the entrances and exists to parliament. “Radicals do this, and then they sometimes sneak away and leave the young people in front of the police,” he alleged, providing no evidence for his claims.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, decried “the violence against protesters in Georgia who were peacefully demonstrating against the law on foreign influence.” He urged the ruling Georgian Dream party to ensure the right to peaceful assembly is respected and insisted that “use of force to suppress it is unacceptable.”

Georgia was granted EU candidate status by the European Commission in December, despite warnings that it was at risk of backsliding on key human rights issues and had not implemented the reforms set out by Brussels. The bloc’s enlargement chief, Gert Jan Koopman, arrived in Tbilisi on Wednesday morning as part of a scheduled visit, with MEPs urging him to announce the withdrawal of the South Caucasus nation’s candidate status.

The foreign agent bill, initially proposed last year, was shelved by the government after major protests and international outcry, with Brussels saying the rules would contradict European values.

However, at a rally on Monday night, the ruling party doubled down on its plans, which it said were essential to protect the country from overseas influence and “LGBT propaganda.” The measures would require NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence, which critics say mirrors legislation used by neighboring Russia to suppress civil society.

Georgian lawmakers are debating the bill at its second reading in parliament on Wednesday, with as many as a dozen opposition MPs having been thrown out of hearings or barred from asking questions. One, Salome Samadashvili, was reportedly expelled after asking a question about far-right Russian ideologue Aleksandr Dugin, who along with senior Kremlin officials, has expressed his support for the law.

However, discussion of the draft legislation was interrupted later on Wednesday after an altercation broke out between members of the ruling party and opposition MPs. Further protests are expected the same evening, with activists traveling to the capital from cities around the country.

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