Bishkek Tightens Grip on NGOs

Image, TCA, Aleksandr Potolitsyn

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyzstan´s President said on Tuesday that he has approved a law that tightens control over non-governmental organizations which receive foreign funding, despite concerns that the measure could erode basic freedoms and services.

President Sadyr Japarov defied international pressure to refrain from signing the law, which was passed by an overwhelming margin in Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament on March 14. In a Facebook post, he said the measure would make NGOs more accountable and increase transparency, an assertion that critics say is misleading.

For decades, NGOs “just opened bank accounts, took money from foreign donors and used it as they saw fit, including for personal purposes,” Japarov said. “From now on they will be registered with the Ministry of Justice like everyone else. They will open bank accounts. They will start to work openly. There will be no more confusion.”

NGOs “spread false information, saying ‘we will be persecuted, we will be arrested as agents of a foreign state’. And the donors believed it,” said Japarov, adding that “there will be no persecution” of the groups.

Critics say the law represents a slow-moving crackdown that rolls back efforts to develop civil society with the help of foreign governments and other institutions.

“We’re deeply disappointed that Kyrgyzstan’s president Sadyr Japarov has signed the repressive law on ‘foreign representatives,’ citing misleading, untrue arguments about NGOs,” said the International Partnership for Human Rights, a Brussels-based group. 

“At least get the facts straight,” Syinat Sultanalieva, a Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said of Japarov’s statement, adding that it was wrong of Japarov to suggest that NGOs “never registered and did not submit reports and basically ran amok unchecked.”

In his statement, Japarov bristled at criticism from Western-affiliated institutions and said there was a double standard.

“Why do non-governmental organizations in developed Western countries register with the Ministry of Justice, the Tax Service, open a bank account and not do the same when they come to us?” he said. “Or are we a second-class country? No, we are not. We will no longer allow such dubious actions.”

Japarov had previously accused NGOs of spreading “inaccurate information,” emphasizing that the draft law “is close to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) adopted in 1938 in the United States.”. Some opponents claim it is based on Russia´s “foreign agents” law, and could be used as an instrument of oppression.