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Threats to freedom of speech are growing in Kyrgyzstan – report

Researchers from the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Legal Prosperity Foundation (LPF), as part of their collaboration with CIVICUS Monitor, have prepared an interim report showing growing threats to freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan.

It says that during the reporting period, the government continued its attempts to tighten the screws on free speech and civic engagement, as seen in a series of developments that seriously threatened the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Experts pointed to the draft media law initiated by the presidential administration in the fall of 2022. Officials failed to take on board key expert recommendations, as a result of which basic flaws were retained in several revised versions of the draft law put forward by the presidential administration in the first few months of 2023. Critics fear that the draft law, if adopted in the proposed format, would result in excessive state control over the activities of media and could be used to silence inconvenient outlets.

There were ongoing concerns about the government’s misuse of the controversial law on protection against ‘’false’’ information to stifle independent news reporting. In particular, the site of the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Azattyk, was blocked under this law.

«In another trend of concern, there were several cases in which state-controlled media outlets filed defamation lawsuits against independent media outlets, featuring excessive requests for moral damages. The high-profile criminal case against close to 30 civil society activists, journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and other critics of a government-negotiated border deal with Uzbekistan continued. In an unprecedented turn of developments in the spurious criminal case initiated against him, corruption whistle-blowing journalist Bolot Temirov was deported from Kyrgyzstan in November 2022, while several bloggers went on trial because of social media posts on issues which are sensitive to the authorities. A draft law initiated by the presidential administration in November 2022 proposed to introduce excessive state oversight and restrictions on the activities of NGOs,» the human rights activists say in the report.

In addition, international analysts drew attention to the complete ban on protests in the central districts of Bishkek.

Human rights activists came to the conclusion that the downward trend in the situation with civil rights and freedoms in Kyrgyzstan continues. They demand from the authorities to reconsider their policy in this direction and abandon the practice of pressure on the media and civil activists, recalling once again Kyrgyzstan’s compliance with obligations under international treaties.