Kyrgyzstan: NGOs rise alarm over deteriorating free speech climate & restrictions on civic freedoms ahead of UN review

On 11-12 October 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee is reviewing Kyrgyzstan’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at its session in Geneva.

Ahead of the review, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Legal Prosperity Foundation (LPF) and CIVICUS have flagged concerns about the deteriorating climate for free speech and restrictions on civic freedoms in Kyrgyzstan. The three organisations submitted a joint report to the Committee on these issues and also raised them during briefings with Committee members.

The following statement was delivered on behalf of the three organisations by Nicola Paccamiccio, CIVICUS Geneva Advocacy and Networks Officer, at an NGO briefing with the Human Rights Committee on 10 October 2022:

Dear Committee Members, colleagues,

I’m speaking on behalf of CIVICUS, the Brussels-based International Partnership for Human Rights, and the Bishkek-based Legal Prosperity Foundation. I would like to draw your attention to a few key concerns documented in our joint written submission on Kyrgyzstan.

We are concerned that the Kyrgyzstani authorities have increasingly sought to suppress discussion on issues of public interest and stifle free speech, including by exploiting the fight against disinformation for this purpose.

A new law adopted last year grants the government discretionary powers to order the blocking of online resources found to have posted ‘’false’’ information, with some news sites already having been blocked. Law enforcement authorities have also summoned, warned and opened investigations against a growing number of social media users accused of posting ‘’false’’ information.

Moreover, we have witnessed increasing intimidation and harassment of journalists, bloggers, civil society activists and lawyers who have criticised the authorities and spoken out on corruption and other sensitive issues. They have, among others, been subjected to online trolling, surveillance, searches of their homes, detention, interrogation and criminal prosecution in apparent retaliation for exercising freedom of expression and other fundamental freedoms. In several cases, charges have been brought under broadly worded criminal code provisions which can be used to restrict legitimate expression, such as a provision that penalises ‘’incitement’’ to inter-ethnic and other discord without clearly defining this offense.

We are further concerned about the introduction of a new unjustified and discriminatory financial reporting scheme for NGOs, and the attempts of some decision-makers and their supports to reinitiate a repressive ‘’foreign agents’’ draft NGO law, which parliament previously rejected. Those advocating for tighter NGO control have used hostile language, for example accusing NGOs of threatening national security and so-called traditional values, thereby fuelling mistrust against them.

There have also been several attacks on NGOs by unidentified perpetrators acting with impunity.

Finally, we are concerned about a series of court-sanctioned blanket bans on peaceful protests in the centre of the capital, Bishkek, which have been issued in violation of national and international standards. Most recently, assemblies have been banned outside the Russian embassy and in other central locations to prevent protests against Russia’s war in Ukraine. Police have also detained peaceful protesters based on these bans. You can find more information (including case examples) in our joint written submission.

Thank you for your attention.