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Kyrgyzstan president signs Russian-style ‘foreign agents’ proposal into law

FILE - Kyrgyzstan's President Sadyr Japarov speaks in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, April 11, 2021. (Kyrgyz Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters)
FILE - Kyrgyzstan's President Sadyr Japarov speaks in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, April 11, 2021. (Kyrgyz Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters)

Kyrgyzstan President Sadyr Japarov on Tuesday signed a controversial law modeled on Russia's "foreign agents law" over objections of nonprofit groups who say it will stigmatize them and create unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.

The law says that any organization receiving foreign funding must register as a "foreign representative." Another provision gives the Ministry of Justice, which would implement the law, the authority to conduct unscheduled inspections and audits of such organizations.

"You have been working with foreign donors for 30 years and no one has prosecuted you for taking money. Are we going to start doing that now? As the Head of State, I guarantee there will be no persecution," Japarov said in his April 2 social media statement.

"Our state has no secrets to hide from you and your donors,” he said. “All our information is in the public domain. If you can, get billions, not millions. It will only benefit our country."

While Japarov argues that this is a key step to ensure transparency, critics say Kyrgyzstan already has necessary laws in place. Additionally, foreign funding typically comes with strict conditions for openness and accountability.

The nation's Parliament approved the legislation on March 14 after 64 of the 90 deputies put their signatures to the draft bill. Witnesses said the passage occurred without debate and took just seven minutes.

The move comes amid international concern that authorities in Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country of 7 million people, have been curtailing citizens’ freedoms and taking increasingly harsh measures against political dissent.

In October 2022, authorities jailed 27 civil society activists on charges of fomenting unrest after they opposed a controversial border deal with Uzbekistan. In 2023, the Kyrgyz government closed several independent media outlets, arrested several journalists and bloggers, and also jailed Adahan Madumarov, a member of Parliament and a prominent government critic.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Tuesday expressing deep concern regarding the law, which it said puts at risk the work of NGOs, "essential to a more democratic and inclusive Kyrgyz Republic."

"This is the latest in a series of Kyrgyz government actions that have undermined democratic governance and civil society," said spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Freedom House, in its 2023 report on the state of democracy titled Nations in Transit, categorized Kyrgyzstan as a “consolidated authoritarian regime.”

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