Kyrgyzstan parliament adopts Russian-style “foreign agents” bill

By Thomson Reuters Mar 14, 2024 | 8:52 AM

(Reuters) – The parliament of Kyrgyzstan on Thursday adopted a bill styled on Russia’s “foreign agents” law that international observers fear will restrict the work of nongovernmental organisations and independent media in the Central Asian country.

A European Union delegation and multiple Western embassies criticised the bill in a joint statement, saying its passage would “contravene international norms” and jeopardise foreign assistance to the nation of 6.6 million people.

The draft law introduces onerous reporting requirements for NGOs which receive funding from abroad and are engaged in what are deemed to be political activities.

The bill seeks to stop NGOs from “trying to shape public opinion” on government matters, and says that some organisations “interfere in the political life of the state”, according to excerpts published by local media. It will now head to President Sadyr Japarov for signing.

International observers have warned the legislation may sound the death knell for smaller civil society groups in the country at a time when they are already weakened.

“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,” Matteo Mecacci, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s office for democratic institutions and human rights, said in a statement last month.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to Japarov in February expressing his concerns over the bill, drawing the Central Asian leader’s ire, according to local media.

The mountainous, mostly Muslim country has moved closer to Russia’s orbit in recent years. Kyrgyzstan is a member of a Moscow-led security alliance and Russia said last year it would work on “developing” its military facilities there.

Russia has tightened its own “foreign agents” law, first passed in 2012, since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, reflecting a climate of hostility and distrust of the West, which Moscow has accused of meddling in its internal affairs.

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)