Kyrgyz parliament gives preliminary backing to bill banning foreign media ownership

By bne IntelliNews June 23, 2016

The Kyrgyz parliament approved in first reading on June 22 a bill that seeks to ban foreign individuals and organizations from owning and establishing media outlets in the country, RFE/RL reported.

The proposed legislation, which also bans activities of media outlets financially supported by foreign countries, must pass two more readings before final approval and needs to be signed into law by the president. The legislation 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 bill was approved by a vote of 79-30. A group of civil rights activists held a rally on June 16 to protest the bill, mainly to defend RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service Radio Azattyk.

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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