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Kyrgyz Lawmakers Approve Controversial Bill That Opponents Say Will Stifle Free Speech

Ninety-seven members of parliament voted for the legislation with only five deputies opposing it. (file photo)
Ninety-seven members of parliament voted for the legislation with only five deputies opposing it. (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz lawmakers have approved a controversial bill that they say is aimed at stopping the spread of fake news online, but which civil rights defenders and opposition activists fear is an attempt to stifle free speech.

A total of 97 lawmakers voted for the bill on July 28, while five voted against it.

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

The bill envisages the creation of a government watchdog that would "react to complaints" regarding the content of online posts within 48 hours. The sites where the content was posted are obliged to follow any instructions received from the watchdog within 24 hours.

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.

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

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

It sparked mass rallies in Bishkek in June 2020, prompting then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to reject it. He returned the bill back to lawmakers for additional discussion.

Disputed parliamentary elections sparked more mass rallies last October, leading to the resignations of the government and Jeenbekov.

Sadyr Japarov easily won a presidential election in January and has initiated many legal changes that he says are needed to create a strong central branch of government to "establish order."