Kyrgyzstan: New bill targeting NGOs could undermine the freedom of association

Press release
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A.Savin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Paris-Geneva, November 8, 2022 – Draft law of the Kyrgyz Republic "On Non-Profit Non-Governmental Organisations" would restrict the freedom of association in Kyrgyzstan if adopted, the Observatory (the International Federation for Human Rights - FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture - OMCT) warned today. 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 nongovernmental organisations". The bill, initiated by the Presidential Administration, proposes 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 conformity of activities of non-profit non-governmental organisations (NGOs) 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 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 which 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, in order to be granted foreign NGO status.The law on non-profit organisations currently in force in the Kyrgyz Republic allows for the creation of organisations without the formation of a legal entity in the form of public associations or foundations, and the definition of a foreign non-commercial organisation is absent.

"Repeated attempts by the Kyrgyz authorities to introduce legislation mirroring the notorious Russian "foreign agent" law reflect Russia’s deleterious influence on the region and threaten to shrink the space for civil society. We urge the Kyrgyz Parliament to reject the current draft and drop all existing restrictions on the freedom of association."

Alice Mogwe, FIDH’s President

The current law on NGOs in Kyrgyzstan was adopted in 1999. Since then, the Kyrgyz authorities have repeatedly raised the idea of tightening control over NGOs. For instance, between 2013 and 2016, the Jogorku Kenesh (Parliament of Kyrgyzstan) attempted to introduce a "foreign agent" clause into the legislation. Each time, public criticism of the bill deterred the authorities from taking such repressive measures. However, amendments to the law adopted in 2021 imposed onerous reporting obligations on NGOs, requiring them to disclose their sources of income and areas of expenditure, effectively limiting freedom of association. On November 3, 2022, the Constitutional Court of the Kyrgyz Republic took up an appeal to review the constitutionality of the 2021 amendments, following a motion by Tolekan Ismailova, director of the human rights movement Bir Duino.

"The new bill on NGOs is not an isolated event but the latest of a series of repressive measures adopted since January 2021 when President Japarov came to power. Rights to freedom of press, association and assembly must be respected and protected to revert this negative trend."

Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the OMCT

The bill came just a week after the October 26, 2022 meeting of the Council of the Heads of Security Bodies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. According to Russian official sources, measures to "jointly counteract the destructive activities of foreign nongovernmental non-profit and international organisations” were discussed during the meeting.

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