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Foreign agents law: Donors are urged to take concrete actions

A group of 15 organizations has written a letter to four international finance institutions (IFIs) that are financing projects in Kyrgyzstan (Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank and World Bank) to share serious concerns regarding the draft law on «foreign representatives», known officially as the Draft Law «On Amendments to the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic «On Non-Commercial Organizations». The joint letter is posted on the website of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development.

In the joint letter, these institutions were urged to take concrete actions and jointly call on the Kyrgyz authorities to:

  • Immediately withdraw the draft law on «foreign representatives», as well as the draft law on mass media, making it clear that these initiatives are contrary to the principles and objectives of the development assistance programmes of IFIs in the country and that their adoption could result in the reconsideration of these programmes.
  • Take concrete and effective measures to ensure that space for civil society and independent media remains open in the Kyrgyz Republic, in accordance with the recommendations of international human rights bodies.
  • Agree to the creation of a platform that includes, among others, members of independent civil society, for promoting cooperation to solve socially impactful problems in the country.

As the letter says, if adopted, the law will pose a serious threat to the success of development activities in Kyrgyzstan. The law would inevitably create a climate of fear, preventing people, including workers, human rights defenders and civil society organizations, from speaking out due to fear of reprisals. This comes at a time when the Kyrgyz authorities are already cracking down on freedom of expression more broadly, such as the recent imprisonment of 11 journalists. By passing such a law, the Kyrgyz Republic, which has long stood out as an island of relative freedom in Central Asia, would send a message to neighboring countries that there no longer is a need for anyone to ensure critical voices are heard, as there are no repercussions if they are restricted.

«In practical terms, this would threaten future projects financed by your institution, severely limiting your ability to carry out safe and meaningful stakeholder engagement. If this law is passed, the ability of civil society to operate will be severely reduced if not entirely eliminated. Ongoing and future projects that you might have in the country would be at a much greater risk of corruption if civil society is gutted, thereby ending its role as a watchdog and key contributor to public accountability. You further run the risk of potential social and environmental harms going unnoticed because whistleblowers, workers, human rights defenders and civil society organizations remain silent out of fear,» the letter reads.

Оn February 22, deputies adopted amendments to the Law on NGOs in the second reading, which will introduce the concept of «foreign representative» (analogous to a foreign agent in Russian legislation). 64 parliament deputies supported it, 5 voted against.