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HRW: President of Kyrgyzstan should use veto to uphold fundamental rights

President of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, should veto two laws that are pending his signature on the grounds that they violate the country’s human rights obligations. International human rights organization Human Rights Watch says in a statement.

Parliament of Kyrgyzstan on June 25, 2020 adopted a vague and overbroad law that allows the authorities, without judicial oversight, to order the removal of information officials consider «false» or «inaccurate» from internet platforms. Parliament also removed a provision from the Criminal Procedural Code that obligates Kyrgyz courts to reconsider criminal cases in which an international human rights body has found a violation.

«Given the vague wording and the lack of judicial oversight, the information law’s threat to freedom of speech and the media cannot be overstated,» said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. «Allowing this bill — or the amendments to the Criminal Procedural Code blunting the impact of international remedies — to enter into force would be a significant and regrettable step backward for Kyrgyzstan.»

The draft law prohibits websites and internet users from circulating «false» or «inaccurate» information online. While the law stipulates that the «authorized state body» can order websites or internet users to take down such information, it does not specify what should be considered «false» or «inaccurate.» The law also requires the «owners of website and/or webpages» to post their surname, initials, and their email address to receive «legally significant messages.» The law does not specify what, if any, the sanctions are for noncompliance.

As the organization notes, the offense of circulating false or inaccurate information is so patently vague and overbroad that it can easily be misused to criminalize lawful speech protected by human rights law.

The law also offends the principle of legality which, under international human rights law, requires crimes to be classified and described with sufficient precision so that everyone is aware of what acts and omissions will make them liable and can act in accordance with the law.

The law should be rejected and new legislation considered that is compatible with international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said.

According to the human rights activists, the initiative should nonetheless cause deep concern among Kyrgyzstan’s partners, including the European Union, as these regressive amendments signal an attempt to sidestep Kyrgyzstan’s rights commitments.