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Concern on legislative initiative in Kyrgyzstan to restrict NGO activity

19 September 2013

In early September, members of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament Tursunbaem Bakir Uulu and Nurkamliem Madaliev put forward a draft law for public discussion that introduces amendments to a number of current laws regulating the activities of non-commercial organizations.  According to the draft law, non-commercial organizations that engage in “political activities” and receive financial support from foreign governments, international and foreign organizations or other foreign sources would be required to register as “foreign agents” and use this label in material they publish and distribute. Similarly to the 2012 Russian law on “foreign agents,” which has served as inspiration and example for the draft law, the main purpose of this requirement appears to be to stigmatize and put into question the credibility of NGOs that carry out their work using foreign grants.

Major provisions of the draft law are identical to those of the Russian law, which was adopted despite widespread criticism at the national and international levels. In the same way as the Russian law, the draft law introduced in Kyrgyzstan provides for an excessively broad definition of “political activities,” according to which non-commercial organizations may be deemed to engage in “political activities” if they participate (including through funding) in “organizing and conducting political actions that have the objective of influencing decision-making of public authorities and are aimed at changing public policies pursued by these authorities” or “in shaping public opinion for the same purposes”. The draft law states that activities in a number of specifically listed areas, such as science, culture, art, sports, and health and social protection, would not qualify as “political activities.” However, beyond this, it does not explain this key term.

In Russia, enforcement of the “foreign agents” law adopted in July 2012 has had a seriously chilling impact on civil society and has served to reinforce negative attitudes against NGOs. Hundreds of NGOs across the country have been subjected to inspections and dozens of groups and their leaders have faced warnings and legal charges for refusing to register as “foreign agents.” It is particularly disturbing that a similar draft law now has been initiated in Kyrgyzstan, a country that unlike other countries in the region has seen the development of a vibrant civil society in the years since independence with NGOs playing an important and visible role in the implementation of reforms, human rights defense and other areas. It would be most unfortunate if the authorities of the country at this time would embark on a course of repression of civil society, instead of continuing cooperation with NGOs for the purpose of promoting further development and progress in the country.

The full text of the appeal can be found here.