US announces visa restrictions and bilateral review following Georgia's passage of the 'foreign influence' law - Hindustan Times
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US announces visa restrictions and bilateral review following Georgia's passage of the 'foreign influence' law

ANI | | Posted by Tuhin Das Mahapatra
May 24, 2024 07:36 AM IST

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announces new visa restrictions for those undermining democracy in Georgia.

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has announced new visa restriction policy for those responsible for undermining democracy in Georgia. He also announced the launch of a comprehensive review of bilateral cooperation between the US and Georgia.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 22, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)(Getty Images via AFP)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 22, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)(Getty Images via AFP)

In a post on X, Blinken stated, "I am announcing a new visa restriction policy for those responsible for undermining democracy in Georgia, including in connection with the Georgian Dream's proposed "foreign influence" legislation."

In a statement, Blinken noted that the ruling Georgian Dream party over the past few months has developed and passed "foreign influence" law that would stifle the exercise of freedoms of association and expression, stigmatise organisations that serve the people of Georgia, and impede independent media organisations working to provide people of Georgia with access to high quality information.

He further said, "As Georgian citizens have voiced opposition to the law, we have seen clear indications of a campaign of intimidation and the use of violence to suppress peaceful dissent. Both the "national security law" and the repressive tactics used to quell legitimate dissent undermine Georgia's democracy and the fundamental freedoms to which the Georgian people are entitled and run contrary to Georgia's long-stated goal - reflected in its constitution -- of Euro-Atlantic integration and strategic partnership with the United States.

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New US visa policy targets individuals undermining Georgian democracy

In a statement, Blinken said, "In response to these actions, the Department of State is implementing a new visa restriction policy for Georgia that will apply to individuals who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members. This includes individuals responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation."

Blinken stressed that US support for Georgia's democracy is longstanding and foundational for the bilateral relationship. He stated that anyone who undermines democratic processes or institutions in Georgia, including in the lead-up to, during, and following Georgia's October 2024 elections, may be found ineligible for US visas under this policy and precluded from travelling to the US. He added that immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.

He further said, I am also launching today a comprehensive review of bilateral cooperation between the United States and Georgia. It remains our hope that Georgia's leaders will reconsider the draft law and take steps to move forward with their nation's democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. As we review the relationship between our two countries, we will take into account Georgia's actions in deciding our own."

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Mass protests erupt in Georgia over foreign agents law

Earlier this month, Georgian Dream, the ruling party, passed the law in Parliament, and has vowed to overrule a veto that was signed by the president, Politico reported.

People of Georgia have taken to the streets in Tbilisi and around the country for weeks to protest against the foreign agents law. The bill, if enacted, requires individuals or organisations that receive 20 percent of their funding from a foreign government to register with the internal security services as "foreign agent" and as promoting the interests of a foreign power.

Some groups that would fall under the category of "foreign agent" have expressed their unwillingness to register. However, they expressed fear about being a target of the police and courts that could ransack and close their operations and possibly jail people, Politico reported. The legislation is similar to Russian law introduced in 2012 that has been used to criminalise pro-democracy groups, opposition figures, journalists and news outlets, Politico reported.

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European Union officials have spoken out against Georgian Dream's pursuit of the law calling it incompatible with Georgia's aspirations to join the bloc, according to Politico report. US lawmakers warned that passing the foreign agents law would require a fundamental shift in US relations with Georgia.

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