The Kyrgyzstani authorities are unleashing an unprecedented crackdown on the country’s civil society, Amnesty International said today, as it released a statement highlighting how the government has increasingly sought to stifle dissent and erode human rights guarantees since 2021.
“The Kyrgyzstani government’s campaign against civil society is not just a series of random, sporadic attempts to fend off criticism — it is strategically designed to stifle critics. The state’s actions echo some of the most repressive tactics deployed in the region’s recent history,” said Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher.
The Kyrgyzstani government’s campaign against civil society is not just a series of random, sporadic attempts to fend off criticism — it is strategically designed to stifle criticsMaisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher
“Right now, Kyrgyzstan stands at a crossroads; The government’s deliberate use of restrictive legislation paints a troubled future for civil society, and for the most at-risk individuals in the country to whom civil society provides essential support.”
“Just three years after coming to power, President Sadyr Zhaparov has led an administration that has introduced a series of legislative initiatives, policies and practices aimed at suppressing critical voices and restricting the operations of NGOs, particularly those engaging in human rights advocacy or “political activity.”
Widespread crackdown on civil society
The proposed “foreign representatives” legislation and amendments to existing NGO regulations, introduced in October 2023, mimic the infamous Russian “foreign agents” law. If adopted, they risk severely hampering the ability of civil society organizations to operate freely and effectively, breaching Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights obligations and depriving those most marginalised of essential services, which the state struggles to provide at present.
The new bill’s overly broad and ambiguous language grants the authorities excessive discretionary powers to target NGOs for their legitimate work. The introduction of new criminal offences, along with severe penalties for civil society activists, is particularly alarming.
The right of peaceful assembly has also been severely undermined since March 2022, with blanket bans on protests in central public locations and court-imposed restrictions targeting gatherings critical of state policies. Initially justified as a temporary measure to prevent “potential mass riots” in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine, these unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions were eventually extended until the end of March 2024.
In October 2022, 27 people, including human rights defender Rita Karasartova, were arbitrarily detained following a protest over a border demarcation deal with neighbouring Uzbekistan and they now face unfounded criminal charges.
Media freedom is under siege, as demonstrated by draft media legislation introduced in May 2023. This proposed law extends government control over online resources and restricts content based on vague terms related to “morality” and “health.”
The state’s actions echo some of the most repressive tactics deployed in the region’s recent historyMaisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher
The RFE/RL Kyrgyzstani service survived a shutdown attempt between April and July 2023, while Kloop independent media was blocked in September 2023. More recently, 11 reporters were arrested over their involvement in projects associated with investigative journalist Bolot Temirov, who was stripped of his Kyrgyzstani citizenship and deported from the country in August 2022.
The independence of the judiciary is also under threat, highlighted by a law passed in September 2023, which allows the President to overturn Constitutional Court decisions based on subjective notions of “moral values and social conscience.”
Amnesty International calls on the Kyrgyzstani government to reconsider its proposed restrictive legislation and repeal the unduly repressive laws already in place. The authorities should engage in meaningful dialogue with civil society and uphold their international human rights commitments. They must also foster an environment where the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association are protected and respected.
“A thriving civil society able to operate freely and without fear is an invaluable and irreplaceable asset to any country, especially in the face of economic and climate crises – and the Kyrgyzstani civil society has long shown itself to be such an asset. It’s time for the Kyrgyzstani government to unshackle the future, embrace constructive criticism and free expression, and chart a course that honours the dignity and rights of all,” said Maisy Weicherding.