On May 21, the Venice Commission issued an urgent opinion on the Foreign Agents Law in which it “strongly recommends” that the law “be repealed in its current form”, stating that “its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for the freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination.” The Venice Commission says that the law “will affect open, informed public debate, pluralism and democracy,” Report informs via Civil Georgia.

The Commission regrets that the highly controversial law was adopted by the Parliament in disregard of the concerns of large sections of the Georgian population, and says: “This manner of proceeding does not meet the European requirements of democratic law-making.”

The Commission, saying that it had analyzed the compatibility of the law with international and European standards, concludes: “…the restrictions set by the Law to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and privacy are incompatible with the strict test in Articles 8(2), 10(2), and 11(2) of the ECHR and Article 17(2), 19(2) and 22(2) of the ICCPR as they do not meet the requirements of legality, legitimacy, necessity in a democratic society and proportionality, as well as with the principle of non-discrimination set out in Article 14 of the ECHR.”

The Venice Commission says that the designation of the organizations as pursuing the interests of a foreign power has “serious implications,” stressing that it “undermines both the financial stability and credibility of the targeted organizations, as well as their activities.” It adds that the obligation for the organizations to register and report the required information, which “limit access to funding options for stigmatised associations, along with severe administrative fines they may incur, constant surveillance, will no doubt complicate and threaten the effective operation and existence of the organisations concerned.” It adds: “The persistent and stigmatising obstacles concentrated in the hands of the state create a chilling effect.”

The Commission says that the law, ostensibly aimed at ensuring transparency, could risk “stigmatization, silencing and eventually elimination of associations and media which receive even a low part of their funds from abroad.” The Commission notes: “A strong risk is created that the associations and media which come to be affected will be those who are critical of the government, so that their removal would adversely affect open, informed public debate, pluralism and democracy.”