The president of Kyrgyzstan has lashed out at the U.S. government over its criticism of proposed changes to the law that stand to severely complicate the operations of local nongovernmental groups.
Sadyr Japarov said in his February 12 note to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the concerns voiced by Washington were based on inaccurate information provided by foreign-funded NGOs whose leadership he cast as thieving money-grabbers.
“Such unreliable sources speculate on their ‘difficulties’ and ‘persecutions,’ which, in turn, force sponsoring foreign structures to follow their lead, engage in wastefulness, wasting money of taxpayers in the United States and [European Union] countries,” Japarov said in the letter, written in English.
The Kyrgyz leader was responding to a letter sent to him last month by Blinken, who expressed his misgivings over a so-called “foreign representatives” law, which was approved in its first reading in parliament in October. In its current form, this bill, which is modeled on a Russian law adopted in 2012, requires any organizations receiving funding from abroad for the purpose of what government bodies deem to be political activity to register as “foreign representatives.”
Critics of the proposed new rules complain that tightened bureaucratic requirements will make it unsustainable for many NGOs to continue existing.
Blinken reportedly said the bill as it stands “threatens Kyrgyz citizens’ access to vital services such as health care and education through programs run by NGOs with support from the U.S. government and international partners.”
“Some U.S. implementing partners are so concerned about this law … they are considering the possibility of a preventive termination of their activities in the Kyrgyz Republic,” Blinken said in the letter, whose contents have been reported by 24.kg news agency.
In a statement released last week, Amnesty International worried that changes made to the “foreign representatives” bill in January threatens to broaden the category of people liable to be penalized.
The “vague, expansive, and ambiguous language gives the authorities excessively discretionary powers to target NGOs for carrying out their legitimate work, including advocacy on public policies that affect the whole spectrum of human rights, including the right to a healthy environment,” Amnesty said.
Japarov was intemperate in his response to Blinken, accusing the United States of hypocrisy.
“The concept of the draft law initiated by members of the Kyrgyz Parliament is close to the current Foreign Agents Registration Act … adopted in the USA in 1938,” he wrote. “The question cannot help but arise: Why is it possible for you, but not for us?”
He reserved stronger condemnation for critics of the bill, however.
“Over the past three decades, a ‘layer’ of non-governmental/non-profit organizations that receive funding from abroad has appeared in our country (in Kyrgyz society they are called ‘grant eaters’), whose leaders have turned them, in fact, into ‘family enterprises,’ engaged in ‘sawing off’ the money coming from foreign sponsors,” Japarov wrote, deploying translations of Russian slang terms.
Elsewhere, the president played down the value of NGOs, arguing that structures had willed into existence since coming to power in October 2020 were more than up to the job.
“Feedback has been established between the authorities and the people through the People's Kurultai,” he said.
That was an allusion to a new permanent branch of government that has been created at Japarov’s behest and that will convene periodically to rubber stamp his policies and lend them an imprimatur of popular legitimacy.
A maiden edition of the two-day People's Kurultai was held in December and was attended by 700 delegates from across the country. Discussions reportedly touched on border issues, education, the provision of clean drinking and irrigation water, agriculture, the justice system, corruption, the environment, and the state of the nation’s roads, among other topics.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.