U.S. State Department Asks Kyrgyzstan To Reconsider Foreign Agents Law

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov to reconsider Kyrgyzstan’s draft law on foreign agents, which is currently under consideration in the parliament and has already been passed by the country’s Supreme Council in a second reading.

In his letter, Secretary Blinken says that this bill in its current form “jeopardizes the access of Kyrgyz citizens to vital services.” According to the U.S. official, after the law is passed, Kyrgyz citizens may have problems with access to health care, education and more services provided through programs run by non-governmental organizations with the support of Washington and other foreign partners.

“Your vibrant civil society has long been the strongest in the region and a key part of Kyrgyzstan’s democracy. I am therefore writing to you to express my concern about the Kyrgyz parliament’s draft law on foreign representatives, which, if passed, would impose onerous civil and criminal penalties on non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It jeopardizes one of your country’s greatest assets,” the U.S. Secretary of State wrote.

According to Blinken, many Kyrgyz NGOs and foreign-funded NGOs are already thinking about stopping their activities in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. Secretary of State urged the Kyrgyz president to weigh these concerns and discuss them with members of parliament (MPs).

According to the bill being discussed by MPs, the concept of “foreign representative” will be introduced into law, and will place special responsibility under the law on non-profit (NPO) and non-governmental organizations. In particular, Western representatives aren’t satisfied with the fact that the bill proposes introducing an article in the Kyrgyz Criminal Code on “creation of a non-profit organization that infringes on the personality and rights of citizens.” Active participation in such organizations will be punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of 100,000-200,000 soms ($1,100-$2,200).

Moreover, the draft law introduces additional reporting obligations for foreign-funded non-profit organizations that engage in political activity in Kyrgyzstan.

Other international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, as well as representatives of EU, UK and other countries stated that they are not satisfied with the draft law. They also called on parliament and the president to reconsider the bill.

“The introduction of onerous reporting requirements in the draft law is likely to prove crippling for small and medium-sized media organizations and create significant risks for media freedom and open debate on issues of public interest in the [Kyrgyz Republic]. It is particularly worrying that the amendments under consideration would impose almost complete state control over the right to free expression of civil society and media representatives,” said Teresa Ribeiro, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.

The discussion about draft laws on NGOs and foreign agents has been going on in Kyrgyzstan for several years. Amendments and additions have been made to the draft law. Now the bill is close to final adoption and signing by the president.

Speaking at the People’s Kurultai last December, President Japarov said that more than 30 countries are lobbying Kyrgyzstan not to adopt the bill. “Wherever I go, they tell me that we are torturing NGOs and NPOs. In the end I got angry and in three or four countries I asked the question, ‘do you have NGOs and NCOs? They say that we do. I asked: how many? They answer: 10,000-15,000. I asked how long have they been working? They said [for] a long time. Do you get a report from them, where the money comes from, how much went to salaries, how much went to the social fund, to taxes, and how the money was used?. They say that yes, they receive such reports from NGOs. Why shouldn’t we receive such a report? Or are we second-class people to you?’ Then they immediately shut up,” Japarov said.

It should be noted that the law on NPOs and foreign agents exists in many countries, including the United States. There, individuals and organizations can also be recognized as foreign agents if their activities are funded from abroad. In addition to financial reporting, such organizations are required to report once every six months on their relations with a foreign person. According to open sources, violation of the law on foreign agents in the U.S. are punishable by a fine of $250,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years.

Currently there are more than 15,000 non-profit organizations working in Kyrgyzstan.


Times of Central Asia