Georgian parliament considers draft "on foreign agents", journalists lose accreditation
Journalists denied entry to parliament
On March 6, the Parliament of Georgia continues to consider the draft law “On Foreign Influence” and stopped accreditation of journalists from publications “Tabula” and “Publica” which are critical of the new law. Journalists and editors of these publications were detained outside the parliament building during protests on March 2-3, when the draft law was being considered by the Committee on Foreign Relations.
A regular committee meeting is scheduled for March 6 to discuss the bill, which the opposition, the general public and the country’s Western partners call a Russian model of legislation on foreign agents. By the beginning of the meeting at 9 am, hundreds of people had gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi for a protest against adoption of the law.
”Publica” has been informed by the apparatus of the Parliament that its accreditation has been suspended for a month. The reasons for the ban are promised to be reported “in writing on a business day.” However, the editors were told that the decision was related to the protest on March 2-3 at parliament.
On March 2, at a meeting of the parliamentary committee, the bill was recommended for consideration at a session despite fierce protests from the opposition, the non-governmental sector and journalists.
“Journalists were reporting from the scene, and some of us also protested the adoption of this law,” Publica commented on Parliament’s decision.
Experts draw attention to the fact that new rules about suspending accreditation went into effect on March 1, a day before consideration of the new law.
Under these rules, accreditation will be suspended if a journalist does the following:
- Interferes with the working process in Parliament;
- Enters a work room without the prior permission of a member of the Georgian Parliament or office;
- Does not comply with a refusal to be interviewed by a Member of Parliament, office staff or invited guest in Parliament;
- Displays, without the consent of a Member of Parliament, an office worker or a person visiting Parliament, his document, telephone or other screen of an electronic device;
- Allows obscene, sexist, discriminatory action or naming of people while in the Houses of Parliament;
- Does not obey the lawful instructions of a security officer or office resource officer;
- Transfers the certificate of accreditation to another person.
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Media coalition appeals to speaker of parliament to immediately restore accreditation
The Media Advocacy Coalition is calling on the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament to immediately restore journalists’ accreditation in Parliament in order to ensure the freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution.
This is especially important in the process of discussing the bill on foreign agents created on the Russian model, the coalition said.
“Unfortunately, the Georgian parliament has recently become a symbol of restrictions on journalistic activities. The rights of media representatives are publicly and cynically violated in the highest legislative body. Clear evidence of this is the illegal detentions of journalists and the restriction of their work during the protest against the Russian model of the law, supported by the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The denial of accreditation at such a time is a punitive event against journalists who perform their professional duties and enjoy the right to defend the constitution,” the statement said.
The Foreign Relations Committee of the Parliament of Georgia has confirmed in the first reading a draft law according to which non-governmental and media organizations that receive foreign funding must be registered as “agents of foreign influence”.
As of 27 February, two bills have been registered in Parliament. Both were initiated by the People’s Power movement, which has become famous for its harsh anti-Western statements. The movement includes deputies who were previously members of the ruling party. Experts and many in the public view the movement as fully affiliated with the authorities.
Members of thee movement openly declare that the movement was created in order to “tell people the truth about the West, which is trying to go to war and open a second front.”
The draft law is being criticized by everyone except the ruling party: the local NGO and media sector, the opposition, experts and politicians who have recently been at the mercy of the Georgian dream and even the President of Georgia.
The bill is heavily criticized by Georgia’s Western partners from various international organizations, US senators or European lawmakers. The US Ambassador bluntly called it “Russian law.”
US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, says that the proponents of the law will be held responsible for risking the future of the country.
On February 20, Georgian senators Jeanne Shaheen and Dick Durbin visited Georgia. Shaheen stated at a press conference on the “foreign agents” law that it was similar Russian legislation of the same type.