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Activists In Bishkek Protest Controversial Bill They Say Will Stifle Free Speech

Protesters picketing the parliament building in Bishkek.
Protesters picketing the parliament building in Bishkek.

BISHKEK -- Dozens of civil rights activists and public figures have rallied in Bishkek, protesting a controversial bill on the "prevention of the proliferation of false and unconfirmed information," legislation they say will stifle freedom of speech.

Some 50 protesters picketed the parliament building on June 30, holding posters, saying "Hands Off Freedom Of Speech," "Lawmakers, Do Not Touch My Right To Speak Up," and "Freedom of Speech Is Guaranteed by the Constitution."

A steering committee of the Kyrgyz parliament on June 29 adopted an updated version of the bill amid ongoing protests.

Civil rights organizations and media groups in the Central Asian nation have criticized the bill, saying it contradicts the constitution, Kyrgyzstan’s international commitments and agreements, and violates human rights and freedom of speech.

The bill envisages the creation of a government watchdog that would "react to complaints" regarding the contents of online postings within 48 hours and it would be mandatory for websites or social networks to follow any instructions from the watchdog within 24 hours.

The bill also stipulates that owners of websites and social-network accounts must have their personal data and electronic e-mail addresses open and accessible to everyone, while anonymous Internet users will be located and isolated.

Under the bill, Internet providers must register their clients in a unified identification system and provide officials with full information related to users if a court or a state organ requests such data.

Aibek Kurenkeev, the executive director of the Kyrgyz Communication Operators' Association, told RFE/RL on June 29 that if adopted, the bill would also place additional expenses on Internet providers.

"The implementation of the bill will make the Internet much more expensive. Additional equipment and software are needed to identify or block users. Additional workforce places will be also needed. There are no financial resources planned for that. The law's implementation is not private businesses' obligation. Therefore, we are against the bill. Also, there is no way to curb the flow of information via the Internet. There are many ways to overcome limitations," Kurenkeev said.

The bill, initially called the "draft law on the manipulation of information," was proposed by lawmakers Gulshat Asylbaeva and Ainura Osmonova a year ago.

After the move sparked mass protests in the country, then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov refused to sign it into law and returned it back to lawmakers for additional discussion.

Activists say, lawmakers only changed the bill's name, but preserved all of its controversial clauses.

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