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Opposition leaders in Georgia urge Britain to oppose foreign influence law

Protester holding a sign that reads 'No more Russian shadows over Georgia's future'

Protesters believe the proposed law would bring Russian-style restrictions (Getty Images)

Georgian opposition leaders have called on Britain to do more to oppose what they say is a crackdown on civil society in the former Soviet country.

They urged the foreign minister to show the ruling party that the international community was united against the proposals.

The Foreign Influence Transparency Act is expected to pass its final parliamentary hurdles in the coming days.

Opponents have organized mass protests against the law in the capital Tbilisi.

The legislation would force non-governmental groups and media to register as “organizations serving the interests of a foreign power” if more than 20% of their funding comes from abroad.

The ruling Georgian Dream party says the measure would increase transparency and defend Georgia’s sovereignty.

But opponents say the government will use it to crush opposition votes and parties ahead of October’s general election.

They say it is also aimed at undermining Georgia’s ambition to join the European Union, which could not accept the new law.

The legislation has been dubbed “the Russian bill” because it is similar legislation used by the Kremlin to silence its own critics.

The proposal has brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets in the small country on the east coast of the Black Sea.

The US has been vocal in its attack on the bill, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan writing on X this weekend that the US was “deeply alarmed by the democratic backsliding in Georgia”.

He said MPs had to choose between “the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people, or passing a Kremlin-style foreign agent law that is contrary to democratic values… we stand with the Georgian people”.

Britain, by contrast, has been more discreet in expressing its opposition.

In a written parliamentary response quietly published last week, Europe Minister Nusrat Ghani said the British ambassador to Tbilisi had “consistently raised our concerns about the proposed law” during recent meetings with the prime minister and president.

She said she herself had discussed the issue with the Georgian ambassador in London last month.

Her only other public comments came 10 days ago, in a social media post in which she warned of “excessive use of force by police against peaceful protesters in Tbilisi,” which she said was “not in line with democratic values ​​and threatens Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations. “.

But Georgian opposition MPs want Ms Ghani and Foreign Secretary David Cameron to go much further.

Giorgi Vashadze, MP and leader of the Strategy Builder party, said: “Lord Cameron was one of Georgia’s leading international supporters when we were invaded in 2008.

“We were grateful for his support, which contributed so much to uplifting the country.

“As Secretary of State, I ask him to do the same to highlight the government’s attempts to bring attention to the opposition during an election year.”

Tina Bokuchava, Georgian MP and Parliamentary Leader of the United National Movement, said: “These written answers show that the British Government is privately concerned about the situation in Georgia.

“It is now necessary that these concerns are made public so that the ruling party understands that the international community is united in opposing such authoritarian actions.”

A spokesperson for Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told the BBC that Britain is “deeply concerned” about the foreign influence law.

“The accompanying rhetoric and excessive force used by police against demonstrators are deeply concerning,” they said.

“We urge the Georgian authorities to show restraint in policing peaceful demonstrations.”

“The UK continues to work with the Georgian government and civil society groups in Tbilisi, and our ambassador has consistently raised our concerns about the proposed law to the Georgian government, most recently to the Prime Minister on 22 April.”