The speaker of Georgia’s parliament has signed into law a bill that critics say will curb media freedom

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The speaker of Georgia’s parliament said Monday he had signed the law into law. Weeks of struggle Critics said it would limit media freedom and hurt the country’s chances of joining the European Union.

Speaker Shalva Babuvashvili acted after the legislature, controlled by the ruling Georgian Dream party, overrode a veto of the bill. By President Salome Zorapichvili.

Approved by lawmakers last month, Size Media, non-governmental organizations and other non-profit groups must register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

Zourabichvili is increasingly conflicted with the ruling partyThe party had opposed the bill, accusing it of jeopardizing Georgia’s future and “blocking the path to full membership in the free and democratic world.”

Georgia Nodia, a Tbilisi-based political analyst, said the new law was a “turning point” for Georgia.

“It is leading the country from democracy to autocracy,” he said.

The government argues the law is needed to prevent foreign actors trying to destabilize the South Caucasus nation of 3.7 million people from what it deems harm. Many journalists and activists say its real aim is to smear them and control debate ahead of parliamentary elections in October.

“This law will stop Georgia’s future and Georgia’s future in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” said journalist Katie Dudberg.

Opponents have denounced it as a “Russian law” because it resembles measures pushed by the Kremlin to crack down on independent news media, nonprofits and activists. They say the move may have been taken by Moscow to block Georgia’s chances of further integration with the West.

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Zurab Japaridze, head of the opposition Girchi-More Freedom party, said the law’s purpose was to “cleanse this country of non-governmental sectors, critical media and opposition parties and bring us to the reality of Russia.”

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakitse dismissed the criticism as “unnecessary emotions with an artificial basis”.

“Only the wrong-headed people of our country have been defeated,” he said, “and now that the law has already come into force, we must all be pragmatic, cool-minded, and put aside unnecessary emotions.”

Over the weekend, a masked mob attacked the opposition United National Movement’s central offices in Tbilisi, smashing windows and damaging property. The attackers were accused of belonging to the ruling party. The Home Ministry has launched an inquiry into the property damage.

The law is almost identical to a move the ruling party was pressured to withdraw after massive street protests last year. Renewed protests once again gripped Georgia, this time as a new bill reached parliament. Demonstrators clashed with police who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.

After signing the bill, Papuvashvili reaffirmed that its main purpose was to “increase the resistance of Georgia’s political, economic and social systems to external interventions.”

“If non-governmental organizations and mass media want to participate in the decision-making process and influence the lives of Georgian people with the funding of foreign governments, they must meet minimum transparency – the public must know who is behind each actor.” he said.

Once the new law is published on Tuesday, the Justice Ministry will have 60 days to complete the necessary formalities, Babuvashvili said. After that, those affected by the Act will have to register and declare their finances for the previous year.

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The Civil Society Foundation of Georgia, a nongovernmental group, said Thursday it was preparing Challenge the law In the Constitutional Court of Georgia.

The EU’s foreign policy department said the adoption of the law would “negatively affect Georgia’s progress on the EU path”.

The EU granted Georgia candidate status in December, while making it clear that Tbilisi must implement key policy recommendations to advance its membership bid.

Following the bill’s passage last month, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced travel bans would be imposed on officials “responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia.” He hoped Georgia’s government would change course and “take steps to move forward with their country’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”

The United National Movement describes the law as part of efforts by Georgian Dream to draw it into Russia’s sphere of influence – a claim the ruling party angrily rejects. Georgian Dream was founded by Pitsina Ivanishvili, a former prime minister and billionaire who made his fortune in Russia.

Relations between the two countries have remained largely rocky since Georgia became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In 2008, Russia fought a brief war with Georgia in a botched attempt to regain control of the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Moscow later recognized South Ossetia and another separatist province of Abkhazia as independent states and strengthened its military presence there. Most of the world considers both regions to be parts of Georgia.

Tbilisi cut diplomatic ties with Moscow, and while Russia-Georgia relations have improved in recent years, the status of the regions remains a major irritant.

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