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Kyrgyzstan’s bill on so-called “foreign representatives” worrying and should be reviewed: OSCE Human Rights Director and Media Freedom Representative

WARSAW/VIENNA, 7 February 2024 – The decision of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, to proceed towards the adoption of the so-called “foreign representatives” bill is of great concern, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Matteo Mecacci and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM) Teresa Ribeiro said today.

“Protecting freedom of association and other human rights is fundamental to every democracy,” said ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci. “If this legislation is adopted, I am worried it would have an overwhelmingly negative impact on civil society, human rights defenders, and the media in Kyrgyzstan. We call on the Parliament to reconsider this bill and stand ready to provide our support.”

The draft law introduces additional reporting obligations on non-commercial organizations that receive foreign funding and are engaged in broadly defined ‘political’ activities, alongside wide oversight powers by public authorities and potential criminal sanctions for vaguely outlined criminal offences. Media rights groups receiving external funding as well as non-profit organizations that run news outlets would also fall within the scope of the draft law.

“The introduction in this draft law of burdensome reporting requirements is likely to prove unsustainable for small and medium-sized media organizations, and will pose significant risks to media freedom and open debate on issues of public interest in Kyrgyzstan,” noted Media Freedom Representative Teresa Ribeiro. “It is especially concerning that the amendments in question aim at introducing nearly total government control over the right to free expression of civil society and media actors. The mere possibility of criminal sanctions in case of non-compliance with the proposed legislation will have a significant chilling effect on media freedom and freedom of expression in the country.”

At the request of Kyrgyzstan’s Ombudsperson, the Akyikatchy, ODIHR provided an ODIHR Interim Urgent Opinion on an earlier version of the draft law in late 2022. While some of the concerns raised in the opinion have been partially addressed, the “foreign representatives” draft law, as it is remains incompatible with international human rights standards and OSCE commitments.

All OSCE participating States have committed to respecting the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and political participation. These standards and commitments are cornerstones to any vibrant, pluralistic and participatory democracy.