US could sanction Georgia politicians to ‘defend democracy’

US could sanction Georgia politicians to ‘defend democracy’

As part of an effort at “protecting and securing democracy,” the draft law would mandate sanctions against government officials and others who “have material responsibility for undermining or injuring democracy, human rights, or security in Georgia.” It would introduce visa bans for politicians and the families of politicians who are responsible for the passage of “the recent Russia-style foreign agent legislation” targeting NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

The penalties would also target Georgian law enforcement and the security services, who have clamped down on protests against the foreign agent bill. Authorities have responded to tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to demonstrate by deploying tear gas and water cannon, and beating and detaining activists and opposition politicians.

On a visit to Georgia last week, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien warned if Georgia passed the foreign agent bill, “we will see restrictions coming from the United States” that affect the finances or travel of those behind it. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said the foreign agent legislation entering into force would “compel us to fundamentally reassess our relationship with Georgia.”

The foreign agent bill passed its third reading in the Georgian parliament last week, but will require a majority of MPs to vote it through for a final time in the coming days after the country’s independent president exercised her symbolic veto power.

The government insists the law, which would brand NGOs that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad as foreign agents, is necessary to prevent foreign interference. But critics fear Georgian Dream will use it to crack down on media, the opposition and civil society.

Brussels has warned the law could torpedo Georgia’s hopes of joining the European Union. The EU granted Georgia candidate status in December despite warnings over backsliding on human rights and a failure to implement key reforms.

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