Kyrgyzstan: “Foreign agents” bill advances in parliament

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) deplores that the parliament of Kyrgyzstan has passed a widely criticized “foreign agents” bill in the first reading, thereby moving one step closer to its adoption. It is now essential that Kyrgyzstan’s international partners again speak out against this bill, making clear that it runs counter to the country’s international human rights obligations and risks undermining gains made in terms of democratic transition and civil society development.

At today’s parliamentary session, 83 deputies voted in favour of approving the “foreign agents” bill, 23 against. If passed by the parliament in three readings and signed by the president, it will enter into force.

The “foreign agents” bill is largely modelled on the corresponding law adopted in Russia in 2012. It requires NGOs to register and use the stigmatizing label of “foreign agents” if they receive funding from abroad and engage in “political activities”. This term is so broadly worded as to make it applicable to basically any NGO activities, while most NGOs in the country receive foreign and international funding for their work. The bill also contains other provisions that unduly infringe the right to freedom of association and other fundamental rights.

The “foreign agents” bill has been subjected to widespread criticism by civil society, international human rights bodies and the international community. Last week, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it “could negatively affect the work of numerous civil society organisations working on human rights and delivering services in Kyrgyzstan”. At its recent Human Rights Dialogue with Kyrgyzstan on 18 May, the EU “underlined its concerns” about its possible adoption.

Together with 27 other members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, a regional network of human rights NGOs, IPHR issued a statement on 26 May calling on Kyrgyzstan’s parliament to reject the “foreign agents” bill and expressing solidarity with NGO colleagues in the Central Asian country.