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HRW Urges Kyrgyz President To Veto Controversial Bills

Young people participate in a rally against the bill on manipulating information in the media and the Internet in Bishkek on June 29.
Young people participate in a rally against the bill on manipulating information in the media and the Internet in Bishkek on June 29.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov "to uphold fundamental rights" and veto laws recently approved by parliament that "violate the country's human rights obligations."

HRW said in a statement on June 30 that Kyrgyz lawmakers adopted "a vague and overbroad" bill last week that would allow the authorities, without judicial oversight, to order the removal of information from the Internet that officials consider "false" or "inaccurate."

Under the bill, which will come into force after Jeenbekov signs it into law, authorities will also not be required to get court backing to shut down social-media accounts deemed misleading.

Parliament also removed a provision from the Criminal Procedural Code that obligates Kyrgyz courts to reconsider criminal cases in which an international human rights body has found a violation.

"Given the vague wording and the lack of judicial oversight, the information law's threat to freedom of speech and the media cannot be overstated," said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at HRW. "Allowing this bill -- or the amendments to the Criminal Procedural Code blunting the impact of international remedies -- to enter into force would be a significant and regrettable step backward for Kyrgyzstan."

The HRW statement comes a day after some 500 demonstrators rallied in the capital, Bishkek, protesting the legislation. As early as last week, several domestic and international organizations were urging Jeenbekov to reject the bill.

Protesters In Kyrgyzstan Rally Against Bill They Say Would Hurt 'Freedom Of Speech'
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HRW also said that Kyrgyz lawmakers were considering "two other problematic draft laws that would violate international human rights norms and mar Kyrgyzstan's rights record."

A bill on nongovernmental organizations "would impose unnecessary, burdensome financial reporting requirements on these groups that are incompatible with rights to freedom of association and expression," HRW said.

One more bill parliament is going to focus on is a labor-union law, currently in draft form, that "would impose serious restrictions on workers’ rights to freedom of association and the right to organize," HRW said.

According to the rights group, that bill "would create a trade union monopoly, undermining the principle of trade union pluralism, and would greatly interfere with the right of trade unions to freely determine their own structures and statutes."

"It is a cause of deep concern that the Kyrgyz parliament is advancing not one, but four, rights-violating draft laws at the same time," Rittmann said.

"President Jeenbekov should decisively reject these bills, and show that despite the parliament's efforts, Kyrgyzstan has not turned away from human rights and the rule of law."

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