Kyrgyzstan looks to copy Russia's "foreign agent" law

By bne IntelliNews May 28, 2015

Ryskeldi Satke in Bishkek -


The turbulence-prone Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan caught the attention of the UN Human Rights Office this week for attempting to tighten laws governing non-governmental organisations operating in the country. Better known as Russia's version of the "foreign agent" law, the Kyrgyz parliament is scheduled to debate the legislation in the next few days. 

The controversial bill has already triggered widespread condemnation by international organisations and human rights groups, who worry that Kyrygzstan, once hailed as an "island of democracy" among Central Asia's assortment of autocrats and dictators, is moving closer to Russia and away from the democractic path. This will inevitably have an effect on the stability of the country and its attractiveness for foreign investors, say critics.

In a statement, Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged the Kyrgyz government to review this legislation in order "to ensure that it does not restrict the important work of civil society organizations in the country". 

However, critics say Kyrgyzstan has been falling short of its promising aspirations for some time; the country is on its way to adopting a discriminatory law against the LGBT community, the "anti-gay propaganda" law, and now this "foreign agent" bill. Both proposed laws have yet to be passed in parliament and forwarded to the Kyrgyz president for final approval. 

However, it is not clear whether these proposed legislations will be signed into law by President Atambayev. "When the bill comes to me, of course I'll think. There are two versions of the law on foreign agents - adopted in Russia and another in the United States in 1937. I even don't know which of the versions will come to me. In any case I will check if the laws correspond to the interests of the country, whether they comply with human rights. Now I don't want to promise you anything. Today we are faced with the fact that under the guise of human rights, NGOs are opening and trying to destabilize the situation in the country," the Kyrgyz president said in Brussels in April during a visit to EU. In his previous statement from 2013, President Atambayev had reassured the EU that Kyrgyzstan would not follow Russia's footsteps on adopting restrictive rights laws.

Since Kyrgystan's second uprising in the last decade, dubbed the "April revolution" in 2010 which ousted the corrupt regime of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the country has been steadily forging ever closer ties with Russia. In 2011, President Atambayev even named a mountain peak after Russian leader Vladimir Putin while pressing the Americans to vacate the Manas airfield, which was based in the outskirts of the country's capital Bishkek and used to supply Afghanistan missions. 

The on May 8 the Kyrgyz president signed the documents that will enable the country to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union amid uncertain economic prospects in the politically motivated trade organisation, which also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia. 

Kyrgyzstan's poor ranking on Transparency International's corruption index, which it shares with Russia, remains a concern and it is considered one of the major obstacles to the country's economic development. Above all, the country's economy is still highly dependent on foreign aid and migrant remittances from Russia and Kazakhstan.

The Paris-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture, believes that the current discriminatory proposals against NGOs are "inspired by the Russian legislation on 'foreign agents'", which has resulted in the closing of several dozen NGOs in Russia since 2013.

Tolekan Ismailova, head of a Kyrgyz NGO, shares the concerns, adding that aside from following the Kremlin's direction, there are also political influences coming from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is a Chinese-led regional security bloc of which Kyrgyzstan is a member.  

Regional geopolitics also seemed to be impacting on political developments in Central Asia. Russia's confrontation with the West over Ukraine has meant the Kremlin is intensifying its anti-Western propaganda campaign in the former Soviet states. Russian state broadcasting channels continue to dominate the air waves in Kyrgyzstan, which have been part of the Kremlin's most effective "soft power" tools in Central Asia. 

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