Kyrgyzstan votes through Russian-style “foreign agents” law in seven minutes flat

Kyrgyzstan votes through Russian-style “foreign agents” law in seven minutes flat
Japarov is not for turning. / Kyrgyz presidency
By bne IntelliNews March 15, 2024

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has voted through a Russian-style "foreign agents" law said to ape the legislation used by the Putin regime to crush civil society.

The March 14 passing of the bill after a third and final reading took place despite several months of objections from Kyrgyz and international nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and Kyrgyz independent media. There was no debate in the chamber and the 66-to-five “yes” vote (with nine abstentions) was delivered in just seven minutes.

The vote was not even listed on official parliamentary timetable. The legislature has no track record of resisting any substantial legislation backed by the authoritarian Sadyr Japarov presidency.

A European Union delegation and multiple Western embassies criticised the bill in a joint statement issued ahead of the vote.

The passing of the bill would "contravene international norms" and jeopardise foreign assistance to the nation of 6.6mn people, the statement warned.

Provided there is no change of heart from President Sadyr Japarov, who must sign the bill to make it law, onerous reporting requirements will now be imposed on any NGO deemed to be involved in “political activities” and in receipt of funding from abroad.

The bill states that NGOs should be prevented from "trying to shape public opinion" on government matters. Some organisations "interfere in the political life of the state", according to bill excerpts published by local media and relayed by Reuters.

"If this legislation is adopted, I am worried it would have an overwhelmingly negative impact on civil society, human rights defenders, and the media in Kyrgyzstan," Matteo Mecacci, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OECD) office for democratic institutions and human rights, said in a statement last month.

When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to populist authoritarian Japarov in February, outlining his concerns over the bill, the strongman hit out at foreign countries interfering in Kyrgyzstan’s domestic affairs.

“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 the letter. He warned Japarov that the law could “jeopardize one of your country's greatest assets”, namely the “vibrant civil society [that] has long been the strongest in the region and a key part of democracy in Kyrgyzstan”.

In his response, Japarov claimed: “The concept of the draft law initiated by members of the Kyrgyz Parliament is close to the current Foreign Agents Registration Act … adopted in the USA in 1938. The question cannot help but arise: Why is it possible for you, but not for us?”

Amnesty International in February pointed to “vague, expansive, and ambiguous language” in the drafted legislation that “gives the authorities excessively discretionary powers to target NGOs for carrying out their legitimate work, including advocacy on public policies that affect the whole spectrum of human rights, including the right to a healthy environment” .