Police in Georgia arrest dozens at protest against new media law

May 1, 2024 by No Comments

Dozens of people have been arrested in Georgia’s capital after police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters who rallied outside Parliament to protest a controversial bill which they argue limits media freedom. Georgia’s Interior Ministry said 63 people were arrested Tuesday while taking part in a demonstration in Tbilisi. Levan Khabeishvili, an opposition MP, posted a picture of himself on his social media accounts with a bloodied face and heavy bruising. Members of his party said he had been assaulted by police. Those arrested were taking part in the protest against a bill which would require media and non-commercial organizations to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they get more than 20% of their funding from abroad. The protesters have denounced it as “the Russian law” because Moscow uses similar legislation to stigmatize independent news media and organizations critical of the Kremlin. It is similar to a bill that the ruling Georgian Dream party proposed and then withdrew under pressure last year after large street protests. If the bill is adopted, protesters are concerned that it will allow the authorities to more heavily control the media space as well as derailing Georgia’s progress after being granted candidate status in December 2023. “We do not want the Soviet regime that our parents have experienced,” Kato Salukvadze, a protester, told The Associated Press, adding, “I think that everyone should be in the streets and say no to the Russian law and yes to Europe.” Police moved to break up the protest late Tuesday after demonstrators tried to block the entrances to Parliament in order to prevent lawmakers from leaving. Georgia’s Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandre Darakhvelidze said at a briefing Wednesday that the protesters and leaders of the opposition party were “constantly committing violence.” Darakhvelidze alleged that Khabeishvili, the opposition MP, broke through a police cordon and was injured while “he resisted.” Giorgi Vashadze, another opposition politician, said Georgians have the right to peaceful protest and that the behavior of the ruling party and law enforcement agencies is “completely illegal.” Earlier this month, the parliament endorsed the bill on its first reading despite the protests. Debate will continue Wednesday as part of the bill’s second reading. It must pass three readings before it can be adopted. The president has harshly criticized the bill and vowed to veto it if it is passed by parliament. The ruling party, however, can override her veto and then the parliament speaker can sign it into law.