In Kyrgyzstan, NGOs treated as “foreign agents” subject to checks and controls
Bishkek (AsiaNews) – After stalling for almost two years and many appeals by international bodies for changes, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has overwhelmingly passed a bill that defines foreign-funded NGO as foreign agents.
The “foreign agents” bill, which Kyrgyz legislators approved in first reading by a vote of 83 to 23, has to go through two more votes in parliament before landing on President Almazbek Atambayev’s desk for approval. The latter has already indicated that he is in favour of the legislation.
As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noted last week, the bill could have disastrous effects on NGO activities in favour of human rights.
In fact, if approved, the bill would require non-commercial, non-governmental organisations involved in “political activities” that are funded by foreign sources to register as “foreign agents.” However, it does not define “political activities”.
The bill would intensify oversight of NGOs and civil society organisations, giving the Justice Ministry “the power to send representatives to participate in internal activities and to determine whether or not the organisation complies with the goals of its creation.”
The bill includes changes to the criminal code that would make establishing an NGO with aims to “incite citizens to refuse to fulfil their civic duties or commit other unlawful acts” punishable by up to three years in jail.
Lawmaker Nurkamil Madaliev, who co-sponsored the bill, told EurasiaNet last autumn that “not all the funds that finance NGO activities in Kyrgyzstan are aimed at creating a favourable situation.”
In his view, the law would help Kyrgyzstan fend off two existential threats: “Islamic extremism funded by wealthy Gulf Arabs and the efforts by some Western-funded organisations to educate young Kyrgyz about gay rights and reproductive health.”
The first reading of the draft law on foreign agents passed the parliament of Kyrgyzstan is a carbon copy of the one approved in Russia in 2012.
When the former was before the Russian Duma, even the Orthodox Church expressed concerns for its own survival, since it receives money from foreign dioceses and believers.
For Human Rights Watch, the bill “would be incompatible with the right to freedom of association,” guaranteed by Art 20 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For this reason, it has called on Kyrgyzstan’s parliament to reject it.