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Kyrgyz President Urged To Reject Bill On 'False' Information Online

Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov (file photo)
Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Journalists, rights activists, and media-freedom groups in Kyrgyzstan and abroad are urging President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to reject new legislation that they say would curtail press freedom in that post-Soviet republic.

Lawmakers on June 25 passed the second and third readings of the draft law, On Manipulating Information, by a vote of 79 to 10.

All it needs now to go into effect is the president's signature.

Its backers say the bill's main goal is to protect citizens from fake information on the Internet.

But the bill's sweeping scope, allowing the blocking of websites without a court order and compelling companies to store and possibly hand over private user data, in addition to other powers, has prompted warnings of a chilling effect on journalism and media freedom.

The head of the Kyrgyz Independent Union of Journalists, Azamat Kasybekov, told RFE/RL that the president should return the bill to parliament for reconsideration, saying it "threatens freedom of speech and negatively affects the work of journalists."

Under the draft legislation, the authorities are able to shut down or block websites containing information deemed to be "inaccurate" or "false" and to shut down social-media accounts deemed misleading without a court order.

It also requires real-name registration for website owners and social-media-account owners, according to the draft.

Internet service providers would be required to store user data, including photos, audio, and video, for up to six months and share them with government agencies upon request.

It is unclear how such requirements would be enforced, according to the New York-based Committee to Protest Journalists (CPJ), which also warned that the text fails to define "manipulation" or "false" information.

The bill also doesn't specify the entity that would make such determinations or the mechanism for shutting down or blocking websites or accounts, it said.

"The vague nature of Kyrgyzstan's proposed legislation on media manipulation is sure to create a climate of uncertainty for journalists and promote self-censorship," Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement.

The president "should reject this law unless he is intent on taking part in the kind of repression that we already see among Kyrgyzstan's neighbors in Central Asia," she added.

Kyrgyzstan has faced problems including politically charged prosecutions of former officials, but also achieved its post-Soviet region's first peaceful presidential transfer of power between elected heads of state and is widely seen as a democratic leader in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, activists appealed to the recently appointed head of the State National Security Committee, Orozbek Opumbaev, to launch proceedings against lawmakers they accused of abuse of office.

The activists allege that a number of parliament deputies were caught voting on behalf of colleagues absent from the June 25 session at which the media bill was passed, which they claim went ahead without a quorum.

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