Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF): “Can you describe the situation in Georgia at the start of 2023 with regards to the so-called “foreign agent” and “foreign influence” bills?

Natia Tavberidze (NT): “The purpose of the so-called foreign influence bill was to create a legal mechanism that would target and control civil society organsations, human rights defenders and media in Georgia. According to this bill, those civil society organisations receiving more than 20% of funding from abroad would be labeled as ‘foreign agents’. The Russian precedent of similar law has shown us the dramatic consequences of such a law.”

March 2023: Natia Tavberidze (right) stands with civil society colleagues during peaceful demonstrations in front of the Georgian Parliament. Pictured with her are Lela Tsiskarashvili (left) Executive Director of GCRT and Nino Danelia (centre), a Georgian media & communication expert. Photo: Tamta Chkhaidze / Human Rights House Tbilisi.

HRHF: “What is the situation now that the bills were voted down?”

NT: “Even if the Georgian parliament had to vote down the bill as a result of mass protests in Georgia, the government officials still, in their statements, say that this kind of bill is needed. They still believe that this kind of bill is needed and they continue the same narrative stigmatising human rights defenders, civil society and media. The stigmatisation of human rights defenders increases risks against them, which directly affects then the general human rights situation in the country.”

NT: “Because if human rights defenders do not have a safe and enabling environment, it would be difficult for them to protect others in need of protection… women and children, non-dominant group representatives, people in rural areas or people in need of free legal services, etc. Therefore, our work for human rights continues. We need to focus more on preventive work, on increased capacities of human rights defenders”.

NT: “And finally, now more than ever, we need to stand up together to fight for the protection of human rights, for protection of freedom, justice and equality.”

HRHF: “How important was it to receive solidarity from your international civil society colleagues?”

NT: “We received solidarity messages from our partners in different countries. Solidarity activities were planned at Human Rights Houses in different countries by our colleagues and partners. And this was indeed very important because the joint work and joint action, this is what makes us stronger.”

Natia Tavberidze is a Georgian human rights defender working as the Coordinator of Human Rights House Tbilisi.

Top photo: Peaceful protesters gather outside the Georgian parliament in March 2023 to demonstrate against the so-called “foreign agent” and “foreign influence” bills. Photo: Tamta Chkhaidze / Human Rights House Tbilisi.