Kyrgyzstan Tightens Control Over Foreign-Funded NGOs

© Ana Baraulia

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyzstan´s parliament has passed a law that tightens control over foreign funded non-governmental organizations despite international concerns that the measure would further erode rights and access to basic services in the Central Asia country.

Supporters of the law have characterized the law as a way to ward off foreign interference in Kyrgyzstan, while critics say it represents a slow-moving crackdown that rolls back efforts to develop civil society with the help of international governments and other institutions.

The Jogorku Kenesh, or parliament, approved the law by a vote of 66-5 on Thursday. The government has said the law would assign the status of a foreign agent to NGOs, media and other institutions, as well as individuals in some cases, that are financed from abroad. Furthermore, materials posted on behalf of foreign principals on the Internet will be required to contain the phrase: “Materials (information) were produced, distributed and (or) sent by a non-profit organization performing the functions of a foreign representative.” Violations of the law could lead to criminal penalties.

President Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan has said that “only a small number, but a [quite] vociferous group, of these structures financed by foreign states… is a source of inaccurate information for their grantors”. Last month, Japarov pushed back against concerns about the draft law that were expressed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a written response emphasizing that the draft law – which MPs initiated and adopted in its first reading – “is close to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) adopted in 1938 in the United States”. “My only request is that you do not interfere in the internal affairs of our country,” Japarov said.

Some opponents claim it is based on Russia´s “foreign agents” law and could be used as an instrument of oppression.

Members of non-governmental groups and other critics strongly opposed the draft law as it moved toward ratification in the parliament. On March, 15 groups wrote to four international finance institutions that are backing projects in Kyrgyzstan and asked them to join their efforts to block it.

“The law would inevitably create a climate of fear, preventing people, including workers, human rights defenders and civil society organizations, from speaking out due to fear of reprisals,” the groups said in their letter to the Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank and World Bank.

Separately this week, the government in Kyrgyzstan withdrew a draft law on the media that critics said would have restricted free speech. Among the terms of the measure was the right of government agencies to revoke a journalist’s accreditation if it disapproved of the reporter’s coverage of an issue.