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Kyrgyzstan on watchlist – research brief on recent restrictions to civic freedoms
Kyrgyzstan on watchlist – research brief on recent restrictions to civic freedoms

In December 2023, the CIVICUS Monitor downgraded Kyrgyzstan’s civic space rating from “obstructed” to “repressed” following an escalating crackdown on free speech and civic engagement. Since the beginning of 2024, the authorities have intensified their efforts to curb dissent, moving ahead with repressive laws and invoking flimsy legal justifications to shut down independent media and arrest and imprison critics. These alarming developments have led to Kyrgyzstan being placed on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist, released on 5 March 2024.

A research brief published in connection with Kyrgyzstan’s inclusion on the watchlist highlights recent restrictions to civic freedoms in the country, including:

Two draft laws threatening civil society and press freedom are currently making their way through parliament. One is a Russian-style “foreign agent” law which, if adopted, would force non-governmental organisations funded from abroad to register as “foreign representatives” and subject them to invasive state oversight and interference. The other draft law concerns “mass media” and would impose harsh rules on media registration and content. It would also extend these restrictions to blogs and websites, further constraining internet freedom in a country where bloggers and social media users increasingly face prosecution for critical posts.

In January 2024, law enforcement raided the offices of two prominent media outlets, 24.KG and Temirov Live and detained their journalists. While 24.KG’s office remains sealed pending an investigation into alleged “war propaganda”, 11 journalists associated with Temirov Live are being held in pre-trial detention for “calling for disobedience and mass riots.” In February, a court ruled to liquidate Kloop Media, the non-profit behind investigative portal Kloop – allegedly due to issues with its charter, but clearly in retaliation for its journalism. During the trial, government experts testified that Kloop’s negative coverage of current affairs was causing mental illness, sexual depravity, and drug addiction among the population.

Many of the activists, journalists and public figures who were arrested in October 2022 for protesting a controversial land swap handing over control of the Kempir-Abad water reservoir to Uzbekistan remain detained while they undergo trial for “fomenting mass unrest” and “attempting to seize power by force”. The investigation and trial in this case have been shrouded in secrecy from the outset and have featured numerous procedural violations, casting doubt on their fairness and impartiality.

The research brief also sets out recommendations to to the Kyrgyzstani authorities, as well as the international community. Key recommendations include:

● The Kyrgyzstani Parliament should reject the proposed laws on “foreign representatives” and “mass media”, along with any other legislation that goes against international standards on the freedoms of association and expression. Should these laws be passed by parliament, the President should veto them.
● Authorities must immediately cease their repressive measures against independent media outlets, including judicial harassment and website blocking, and allow them to carry out their work without obstruction.
● Authorities must stop using criminal prosecution as a tool of retaliation against critics. They need to ensure that investigations and legal proceedings adhere to due process and fair trial standards outlined by national law and international human rights standards. All charges against those prosecuted on politically motivated grounds must be dropped, and they should be unconditionally released.

● The EU must use all means at its disposal to reinforce the message that the draft law on “foreign representatives” and the ongoing campaign against independent civil society and the media in Kyrgyzstan run counter to the Union’s values and the country’s human rights obligations.
● UN member states must insist on constructive cooperation from Kyrgyzstan with UN human rights bodies and effective implementation of conclusions and recommendations issued by such bodies.
● Other UN member states should hold Kyrgyzstan accountable to the pledges it made prior to its election as a member of the Human Rights Council, in particular with respect to civil society participation.

The full research brief can be downloaded below.

*** The CIVICUS Monitor has prepared the research brief in collaboration with International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR). IPHR cooperates with the CIVICUS Monitor on the preparation of regular updates on civic space developments in Kyrgyzstan, as well as other Central Asian countries. ***

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