As I have already written previously, the influence of Russia is still strong in the Central Asian republics despite their independence. Many laws adopted in Russia are quickly adopted in Central Asian countries, too, with so few changes that the main one is changing the title of the legislation from “Russian Federation…” to “…Kyrgyz Republic” for example.
On 13th of July 2013 the Russian parliament adopted changes to legislation regulating non-government organizations (NGOs). In the new edition of this law, NGO’s financed by foreign countries will counted as a foreign agents.
Recent events indicate that our MPs in the Kyrgyz Republic are ready to copy this Russian law, too.
In the spring of 2013, the State Financial Intelligence Service of Kyrgyzstan issued for public comment the draft law “On Counteracting Legalization (laundering) of Proceeds from Crime and the Financing of Terrorist or Extremist Activity”, in which all NGOs had to submit their financial statements to a public authority. After the clamor raised by NGOs, the project was scuttled.
But then on 6 September the Parliament issued another draft law for public comment, this one providing that civil society organizations in the country can be assigned the status of “foreign agents.” According to the legislation, NGOs involved in political activities will be classed “foreign agents,” and significantly, the bill fails to specify how “political activity” will be defined.
The events of recent weeks further prove the intention of parliament to adopt such a law.
On September 21 at the “Bir Dunyo-Kyrgyzstan” film festival, an activist named Yrgalay Bekmuratova from the local NGO “Ayymdar tany” (“Renaissance Women”) along with a group of unknown young men tried to disrupt the screening of the documentary film “Azimjan Askarov;” sponsored by Freedom House, the film describes the case of the imprisoned ethnic Uzbek human rights activist. The protestors called Toleikan Ismailova–the organizer of the festival and herself a well-known human rights activist–a traitor and a spy.
Two days later on September 23, the head of the youth organization “Erkin El” (“Free Nation”) Mavlyan Askarbekov and some religious leaders accused the NGO “Reproductive Health Alliance” and GIZ (German Agency for Technical Cooperation) of spreading sexual abuse in schools after the organizations distributed pamphlets on sex education for teenagers.
Just last week on October 2, a press conference was called in Bishkek that specifically criticized the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society Dinara Oshurahunova. The event was organized by a former employee of the Coalition, Mambetimin Omurakunov, and the aforementioned Yrgalay Bekmuratova already seen in the attack on Ismailova.
At a roundtable last week on support of sexual education in Kyrgyzstan, the head of the NGO “Mental Health and Society,” Burul Makenbaeva, noted that criticism of booklets on sexual education coincided with the eve of the election. (In 2015 should be elections to the parliament. She meant it as many parties have already started preparations. So early preparations are also connected with the fact that if there will be a political crisis, the parliament can be dissolved and elections take place in next year.) According to her, the debate has been artificially stirred in an attempt to cause a social rift and gain support for a certain part of the electorate. “There is no need to exploit “pseudo-values.” The Constitution does not contain the concepts of “morality and tradition”—these are purely personal issues [on which people are entitled to their own opinion]. But the Basic Law provides a right of access to information” – said Burul Makenbaeva.
This option, of course, cannot be excluded. On the other hand, the authorities may also be interested in silencing NGOs because they monitor elections and require honesty and openness.
In my humble opinion, Kyrgyzstan will not pass a law similar to Russian. Because the economy of Kyrgyzstan is rather weak and it needs support from Europe as well. The attacks on NGOs may affect the amount of aid, and we cannot exclude the possibility the government will take some action to strengthen supervision of the activities of NGOs.
It will be a good test of strength for the civil society in Kyrgyzstan.