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Statement from DataFest Tbilisi

agents of foreign influence

In early April of this year, the Georgian ruling party reintroduced the law on foreign influence. This same law sparked massive protests in the country just about a year ago, in March 2023, when the government supported a bill requiring media and nongovernmental organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register as “agents of foreign influence.” Similar laws have been adopted or introduced in numerous countries in the region, allegedly leading to the extinction of free speech in some of those places, with Russia being one of the most vivid examples. Last year, after fierce protests erupted in the streets of Tbilisi, the Georgian government withdrew the law, claiming that the public had been misled about the proposal, and making a promise that the law would never be discussed again.

However, after a year, in the midway of the election year in Georgia, the same law is reintroduced with the only one difference: instead of an ‘agent of foreign influence,’ the registered entities will have a status of an ‘organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.’ The reintroduction of the once-condemned draft law has been frustrating, infuriating, and bewildering for our team. Since its inception in 2017, DataFest Tbilisi has promoted cooperation and collaboration between various sectors, countries, professions, and has created a welcoming atmosphere to share experiences. Over the years, we have proudly partnered with international donors, private companies, and public agencies to co-create the inspiring and enlightening experience for our attendees. With the proposed law, not only does our approach get jeopardized (eliminating the possibility of cooperation between Georgian public agencies and international donors), but the mere existence of independent media and a thriving civil society becomes questionable. Over the years, we have had an opportunity to share firsthand experience from our community members living in repressive countries. We cannot help but notice that the proposed law intends to restrict Georgian civic space in a similar way.

We believe that our work is even more relevant now - we need to create a platform for sharing experiences, knowledge, and inspiration, in order to learn from each other, ideate and innovate, use data and technology to strengthen democracy. We believe that by doing what we do best - connecting and enabling data enthusiasts - we can contribute to winning the battle against this law.


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