Kyrgyzstan: Controversial NGO Law Passes

Government accused of shrinking space for civil society with onerous legislation.

Kyrgyzstan: Controversial NGO Law Passes

Government accused of shrinking space for civil society with onerous legislation.

Monday, 19 July, 2021

Critics warn that a new law mandating tighter controls over NGOs risks damaging Kyrgyz both democracy and its international standing.

The amendments, signed into law in early July, mean non-profit organisations must submit detailed annual statements on their sources of funding, amount of spending and any assets owned or used. These will be made publicly available on the tax office’s website, and failure to comply may mean the NGO is shut down.

NGOs already submit statements to the national statistics committee, tax authorities and other agencies, and there are fears that these new rules are intended to be burdensome and discriminatory.

Dastan Bekeshev is one of the ten lawmakers who voted against the amendments. He said that he believed that the law would be interpreted selectively and become a means for the authorities to hit back at opponents.

“Say a fund publishes research on [state] offences, they will immediately search for their funding sources and say that they get money from the European countries or the Americans for the purpose of destabilisation,” he said.

Political analyst Almaz Tazhibay warned that the passing of the NGO law could mark the start of a process of democratic backsliding in Kyrgyzstan.

“It [signifies] more than reputational losses for the country,” he said. “It goes against democracy and the rule of law. Before this day, we were the relative ‘islet’ of freedom [in Central Asia]. Now we have a democratic society with an authoritarian regime, just like our neighbours do.”

Opposition politician Klara Sooronkulova noted that NGOs had always been transparent, with their financial statements freely available to the public. She said that because the authorities felt increasingly threatened by Kyrgyzstan’s vibrant civil society sector, they had in recent years been trying to shrink the space in which it could operate.

“The Kyrgyz authorities see the imminent risk posed by a free, independent NGO sector,” Sooronkulova said. “This is obviously because the NGO sector brings together top experts and activists…Moreover, the NGO sector has good skills of organisation and mobilisation. So the authorities see them as serious opponents and from time to time initiate various discriminatory laws that restrict the civil space.”

This latest law could lead to further discriminatory legislation, she concluded.

According to the law’s initiator, parliamentarian Baktybek Raiymkulov, Kyrgyzstan has over 32,000 registered NGOs, out of which nearly 26,000 will be affected by the new amendments.

Raiymkulov said that the new laws would work to preserve national interests and stability, arguing that many foreign-funded NGOs promote “traditions that are strange to the Kyrgyz,” such as LGBT events.

“Over 26 years, the US paid two billion dollars to Kyrgyzstan,” he said. “Maybe this amount was spent for revolutions, to destroy the nation? No one knows the answer. The new amendments will help us track them down. Foreign countries have laws on foreign agents.”

“If the NGO sector is so transparent, what do they fear?” he added. “Rather, we are helping them. Now our people will be more aware of their achievements.”

Osh-based human rights defender Gulgaky Mamasalieva said that the move would have a negative impact on some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“For example, our organisation demands fair pay for citizens and is in litigation with the local government,” she said. “With the new amendments, the authorities will commit more offences and we won’t be able to protect citizens. Ordinary people, especially people with disabilities, the poor and the children of migrants will be deprived of fair state and municipal services and fair wages.”

The US department of state also expressed concern over the amendments.

“The new requirements threaten the ability of NGOs to improve the lives of citizens and impede the vital efforts of NGOs to assist the government in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” its statement read. “Similar laws have been misused in other countries to target organisations critical of the government and political figures, infringing upon freedom of expression. We urge the nation’s leadership to reconsider the law and its impact on civil society, which has been a cornerstone of Kyrgyz democracy.

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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