Kyrgyz civil society representatives Svetlana Bashtovenko and Bubusara Ryskulova collect signatures on a petition against the adoption of the draft “Foreign Agents Law.”
In Kyrgyzstan, the civil society sector is considered to be one of the region’s strongest. Over 3500 registered civil society organizations (CSOs) are empowering vulnerable groups, protecting the environment, promoting health, and providing other crucial services. However, the majority of these organizations, which are registered as noncommercial organizations (NCOs) under local law, rely on funding from foreign sources, leaving the sustainability of the sector particularly precarious.
Concerns over NCO sustainability have only grown over the past months, with the introduction of a draft “Foreign Agents Law” by Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament in September. Among other troubling provisions is a requirement that all NCOs that receive foreign funding and intend to conduct political activities register as “foreign agents,” a designation that would limit their activities and impose additional burdensome requirements.
ICNL is providing support to local organizations who are conducting a countrywide advocacy campaign against the adoption of the law. ICNL prepared comments of the draft law, which were shared with the Parliamentary committee in charge of the law. On November 11, two leading Kyrgyz NCOs – the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society and the Association of Civil Society Support Centers (ACSSC) – organized a virtual town hall meeting to discuss civil society’s response to the draft law and to launch a petition. A unique initiative connecting geographically disparate regions of the country with the use of technology, the virtual meeting brought together over 45 NCO representatives from 3 regions of Kyrgyzstan.
ICNL presented its analysis of the draft law, equipping civil society with the legal arguments necessary for effective advocacy. Following up on the advocacy initiated at these meetings, ICNL and ACSSC organized public hearings on the draft law on November 18 for over 100 participants.
“If adopted, the draft law will be a tool for authorities to limit or even stop activities of NCOs working in human rights and those that are critical of the government,” Nokatbek Idrisov, ICNL’s Legal Consultant in Kyrgyzstan, said during the hearing.
Last month’s statement by President Almazbek Atambayev that he will consider the necessity of the draft law made it clear that the civil society campaign is far from over. ICNL continues to support our local partners to protect the freedom of association in Kyrgyzstan.