(NEW YORK)—Following the Georgian Dream party’s reintroduction of the draft law on foreign agents in parliament, PEN America’s Liesl Gerntholtz warned that the move would weaken civil society by stigmatizing relationships with international partners and codifying judicial harassment of independent writers, artists, and cultural figures.

“After making a simple cosmetic change, the Georgian Dream party is again pushing a so-called ‘Foreign Agent Law’ to undermine the essential and independent work of writers, cultural figures, and journalists,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, PEN America’s director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center. “The infamous draft bill perverts the meaning of the words ‘transparency,’ ‘accountability,’ and ‘security’ to weaken Georgia’s vibrant civil society. Make no mistake, this draft law will codify judicial harassment of independent writers, artists, and cultural figures, amongst others. The Georgian government must walk the talk of improving human rights in their professed efforts to join the European Union and cease all attempts at harassment of writers, artists, and other cultural figures pursuing independent work.”

Since the reintroduction of the draft law on foreign agents, now proposed as the law “On the Transparency of Foreign Influence,” people have protested in the streets. International civil society organizations have warned again that the draft law threatens press freedom and democratic principles. The European Union, which Georgia is in the process of joining, has also expressed concern and warned that the law contravenes media freedom. 

The reintroduction of the law tracks a decline in human rights principles of free expression and cultural rights in Georgia’s cultural sphere. PEN America’s report Taming Culture in Georgia details how, in recent years, Georgia’s Ministry of Culture has targeted independent cultural figures who criticized the government or expressed views at odds with the government’s line. Many cultural figures and political experts in Georgia urged international support for the independent work of artists, writers, and cultural figures in the face of such attacks on their work and free expression.

Members of the Georgian Dream party—Georgia’s ruling political party—first introduced the draft law on foreign agents in February 2023. PEN America, along with several civil society and human rights groups in Georgia and internationally, expressed opposition to the draft law as people took to the streets of Tbilisi to protest the bill. Critics warned that it mirrored Russia’s foreign agent law, which has severely restricted free expression in Russian civil society. The Georgian Dream unconditionally pulled the bill from consideration.