In an apparent climbdown, a parliamentary committee in Kyrgyzstan has hastily rushed through a watered-down version of Russian-inspired legislation that would have seen many nongovernmental groups billed as “foreign agents.”
The Human Rights and Constitutional Legislation Committee spent less than a minute discussing the revised bill at its usual weekly hearing on April 12.
The draft law was first proposed in 2014 by former deputies Tursunbai Bakir Uulu and Nurkamil Madaliev, only to then make its way through parliament at snail’s pace. The overhauled version is hard to recognize from the original and will be considered at a plenary hearing of parliament on April 14.
While the previous draft bill proposed to label both Kyrgyz and foreign-based non-profit organizations that engage in any deemed to be “political activity” and receive outside funding as “foreign agents,” this term has now been quietly dropped.
The new document instead proposes the term “foreign non-commercial organization” to describe entities founded outside Kyrgyzstan that do not pursue profit-making purposes. Foreign government will not be allowed to found such groups.
And rather than requiring the submission of onerous and time-consuming paperwork to the Justice Ministry, as required in the original draft bill, the non-commercial organizations will now just have to publish an annual report online containing a breakdown of expenditure and display who is providing funding.
The legislation in its previous incarnation was widely viewed as the result of Russia’s influence over policy-making in Kyrgyzstan. Analogous legislation in Russia adopted in 2012 has led to the designation of 122 organizations in the country as “foreign agents” — a toxic term that bears undertones of Cold War-style paranoia — and the closure of 14 groups, according to Human Rights Watch.
President Almazbek Atambayev has wavered repeatedly on this fraught topic. In 2013, he said Kyrgyzstan did not need the bill. But in a television interview a year later, Atambayev changed tack and argued that nongovernmental groups needed to be transparent and that the foreign agents bill was needed to safeguard national security interests.
Things have changed again since the parliamentary elections of October 2015, however. Most notably, neither of the bill’s initial proponents, Bakir uulu and Madaliev, made it back into the legislature.
This development comes amid a mild cooling in relations with Moscow following the failure by a pair of major Russian companies to complete important hydropower projects that Kyrgyzstan sees as key to its future prosperity. In January, parliament revoked the dam deals after it became evident that there had been no tangible progress in construction.
Conversely, there has been a slight apparent thawing in ties with the United States. Things hit rock bottom in summer when Kyrgyzstan reacted to the U.S. State Department endowing an award on a jailed ethnic Uzbek activist by tearing a cornerstone cooperation treaty dating to 1993.