Critics warn clock ticking on efforts to stop Putin-style crackdown on civil society in Kyrgyzstan

Critics warn clock ticking on efforts to stop Putin-style crackdown on civil society in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Vladimir Putin held talks in Tatarstan on February 21. /
By bne IntelliNews February 22, 2024

Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan on February 22 approved the second reading of legislation that critics say will be at the heart of a chilling Putin-style authoritarian crackdown on civil society by the country’s Japarov regime.

The bill is aimed at regulating the activities of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). Any NGO that receives funding from abroad will be classified as a “foreign representative”. There are fears that measures introduced by new rules, such as demands for detailed annual audits, will prove so costly and onerous to comply with that many NGOs will have to shut down.

In the vote, 64 of 83 MPs ostensibly backed the bill, with proponents saying it would enhance financial transparency. But there were protests that many deputies blatantly violated procedural rules by casting votes on behalf of absent colleagues. Five MPs registered votes against the legislation. 

Eurasianet has reported legal experts as observing that the bill going through the Jogorku Kenesh (parliament) bears a striking resemblance to Russian legislation adopted in 2012.

Activists have pointed to provisions in the bill that add an additional classification for organisations deemed to be “engaging in political activities.” The parameters for this designation are said to be vague.

On February 13, an international coalition of advocacy groups petitioned European policymakers and politicians to use their influence to dissuade Kyrgyzstan from introducing the legislation, but there is no sign that the Japarov administration is minded to listen to the international outcry.

“Basic NGO activities, such as organizing public debates, peaceful assemblies or other events; publishing appeals, legal opinions or comments on state policies; and conducting sociological research, opinion polls or public awareness-raising would be classified as political activities if they are construed as attempts to influence public decision-making, policies or opinion,” part of the statement on the bill read.

The office of President Sadyr Japarov, who is also accused of attempting to stamp out independent media, lately lashed out after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his misgivings over the legislation, noting that the bill as it stands “threatens Kyrgyz citizens’ access to vital services such as health care and education through programs run by NGOs with support from the U.S. government and international partners.”

“Some U.S. implementing partners are so concerned about this law … they are considering the possibility of a preventive termination of their activities in the Kyrgyz Republic,” Blinken said, in written comments reported by news agency.

Last month, The Washington Post’s editorial board warned in an opinion piece that what is unfolding in Kyrgyzstan “offers a worrisome example of democracy’s global retreat and the smothering of press freedom”.


After Blinken’s comments were reported, Japarov warned the US against interfering in Kyrgyzstan’s internal affairs.

He added in a response, written in English: “Such unreliable sources [on the contents of this bill] speculate on their ‘difficulties’ and ‘persecutions,’ which, in turn, force sponsoring foreign structures to follow their lead, engage in wastefulness, wasting money of taxpayers in the United States and [European Union] countries.”

“Over the past three decades, a ‘layer’ of non-governmental/non-profit organizations that receive funding from abroad has appeared in our country (in Kyrgyz society they are called ‘grant eaters’), whose leaders have turned them, in fact, into ‘family enterprises,’ engaged in [stealing] the money coming from foreign sponsors,” Japarov also stated.

Officials say there are presently around 18,000 NGOs registered in Kyrgyzstan.

Amnesty International (AI) on February 11 joined the international rights organisations heavily criticising Kyrgyztan for "an unprecedented crackdown on civil society".

"The [Kyrgyz] government’s campaign against civil society is not just a series of random, sporadic attempts to fend off criticism—it is strategically designed to stifle critics. The state’s actions echo some of the most repressive tactics deployed in the region’s recent history," AI's Central Asia researcher Maisy Weicherding said in a statement dated February 8.

"Just three years after coming to power, President Sadyr Japarov has led an administration that has introduced a series of legislative initiatives, policies, and practices aimed at suppressing critical voices and restricting the operations of NGOs, particularly those engaging in human rights advocacy or 'political activity,'" Weicherding added.

Japarov on February 21 met Putin in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan republic. Japarov and other Central Asian leaders journeyed to Kazan partly for the opening of the multisport Games of the Future tournament.

Putin noted that relations between Russia and Kyrgyzstan were developing successfully in all spheres in the spirit of a strategic partnership and alliance. He also thanked Japarov for his attention to the development of the Russian language in the Kyrgyz Republic.