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Kyrgyzstan: Worrying situation for civil society

Wire 2022-12-08 at 11_26 AM is very concerned about the situation for civil society in Kyrgyzstan. The new draft law proposed by the Kyrgyz government on “Non-Profit Non-Governmental Organisations” poses a severe threat to the freedom of association in Kyrgyzstan. The authorities must create the best possible enabling environment for civil society, including for human rights groups.

On November 2, the Kyrgyz Cabinet of Ministers published on its website a draft law “On non-profit non-governmental organisations” to tighten control over such organisations. In particular, it vests the Ministry of Justice and the General Prosecutor’s Office with the functions of control over the conformity of activities of non-profit non-governmental organisations to the objectives stipulated by its constituent documents and the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic. In case of violations, an NGO may be liquidated by a court upon request from the above state bodies.

The draft law also proposes to oblige NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic. Organisations that fail to pass state registration by December 31, 2023, would be liquidated. Additionally, the draft law prohibits foreign citizens from establishing NGOs. Finally, the draft law introduces the notion of a “foreign non-profit nongovernmental organisation” and defines the procedure for its activities. Under the draft law, foreign and international NGO affiliates would be required to provide information on their projects and to obtain permission to register from the Ministry of Justice, to be granted foreign NGO status.

This proposed bill is the latest of a series of attempts to tighten control over NGOs in the country. Since 2021, numerous restrictive measures have already been adopted.

The harassment of human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan is also a cause for concern and is part of the escalating persecution of human rights defenders and their increasing censorship. Human rights organisations have been increasingly subjected to unannounced tax inspections and smear campaigns on social media. Over the past weeks, several defenders have been arrested, detained, or harassed in the country.

On 11 November 2022, Bishkek City Court rejected the appeal to change the interim measure from detention to house arrest for women human rights defenders Klara Sooronkulova and Asya Sasykbayeva. The same occurred on 10 November 2022 for women human rights defender Rita Karasartova and on 9 November 2022 for women human rights defender Gulnara Dzhurabayeva.

The women human rights defenders appealed the decision of the Pervomayskiy District Court of the City of Bishkek on 25 October 2022 to detain them for 2 months for their peaceful protest against the transferring the ownership of the Kempir-Abad water reserve from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan. Klara Sooronkulova, Asya Sasykbayeva, Rita Karasartova, and Gulnara Dzhurabayeva will remain in detention until 20 December 2022. The women human rights defenders are being accused of conspiring to organise mass riots, a criminal offence envisioned by Article 36-278 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. If charged, the women human rights defenders can face up to 10 years of prison time. The Court refused to take into account that two women human rights defenders have young children and two women human rights defenders are over 60 years old. Some of their colleagues, who are detained in Temporary Isolation Ward #1 of the City of Bishkek, report that the detention conditions are very poor and the incarceration units lack proper heating.

Furthermore, on November 23, 2022, Bolot Temirov, an investigative reporter and HRD with Kyrgyz and Russian dual nationality was arrested during a court hearing in Bishkek and illegally deported to Russia. In January 2020, the human rights defender founded the YouTube-based media outlet “Temirov Live”, which investigates and reports on the corruption of state and non-state actors.

The Bishkek City Court reviewed the appeal filed by the State Prosecutor against the decision to acquit human rights defender and journalist Bolot Temirov partially. The Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the Sverdlovsk District Court of Bishkek declaring that Bolot Temirov is guilty of document fraud and unprecedentedly ruled to deport the HRD to Russia. Bolot Temirov was violently detained on-site in the courtroom.

Kyrgyzstan had until recently been seen as an exception in Central Asia because of its relative respect for press freedom. But Temirov’s expulsion follows signs of a turn towards a more authoritarian approach, with several cases of independent media being harassed in recent months. The draft of a proposed revision of the media law that was unveiled on 28 September has also caused alarm.