US imposes travel bans on Georgian officials over new law that critics say will curb media freedom

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States imposed sanctions Thursday on dozens of Georgian officials in response to the enactment of a law that drew weeks of protests by critics who say it will curb media freedom and jeopardize the country’s chances of joining the European Union.

The move to impose travel bans on the officials, members of the ruling Georgian Dream party, law enforcement officers, lawmakers, private citizens and family members came three days after Georgia's parliament speaker signed the measure into law following lawmakers' override of a presidential veto.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller did not identify those targeted, due to visa confidentiality laws, but said “a few dozen” people were cited for anti-democratic activity.

“These actions risk derailing Georgia's European future and run counter to the Georgian Constitution and the wishes of its people,” Miller said. He said the sanctions were first step and more penalties would be coming unless Georgia changed course.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had warned about such a move after parliament's initial passage of the bill last month. He also said the U.S. was reviewing all its assistance to Georgia, which has amounted to $390 million over the past several years.

On Monday, Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili signed the legislation sealing the override of a veto of the bill by President Salome Zourabichvili.

T he measure requires media, nongovernmental organizations and other nonprofit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

The government argued the law is needed to stem what it deems to be harmful foreign actors trying to destabilize the South Caucasus nation of 3.7 million. Many journalists and activists say its true goal is to stigmatize them and restrict debate before parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Opponents have denounced it as “the Russian law” because it resembles measures pushed through by the Kremlin to crack down on independent news media, nonprofits and activists. They say the measure may have been driven by Moscow to thwart Georgia’s chances of further integration with the West.