Kyrgyz activists protest bill seeking to ban foreign media ownership

By bne IntelliNews June 20, 2016

A group of civil rights activists held a rally on June 16 to protest a bill that seeks to ban foreign individuals and organisations from owning and establishing media outlets in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL reported. 

The bill, currently debated by the parliament, adds to worries that Kyrgyzstan, once hailed as an "island of democracy" among Central Asia's assortment of autocrats and dictators, is moving away from the democratic path.

The activists gathered in front of the parliament’s building, holding placards saying: "Lawmaker, hands off Radio Azattyk!" which refers to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service. The rally was held during the lawmakers’ discussion of a June 10 proposal to introduce the amendments to the mass-media law.

"The hastily proposed bill's major goal is to curb the flow of independent and timely information in Kyrgyzstan," prominent civil rights activist Rita Karasartova said at the rally. "Radio Azattyk has been the only source of trustworthy information that civil rights activists could refer to when there were obstacles at state-controlled media platforms."

Kyrgyz lawmakers decided to postpone the discussion of the bill until the following week.

The Kyrgyz parliament has recently approved a bill that allows the blocking of websites that promote extremism and terrorism. However, extremism holds a broad definition under the country’s law, which opens doors to abuses by the authorities to censor critics and journalists.

Washington-based human rights and media watchdog Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2016 report categorised Kyrgyz media as "not free". Out of 199 countries, Kyrgyzstan was ranked 149th, followed by Tajikistan (179th), Kazakhstan (181th), Uzbekistan (197th) and Turkmenistan (198th).

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