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Protesters Urge Kyrgyz President To Veto Bill Seen As Impacting Free Speech Online

The protesters wore medical masks, many of which had a large red "X" to symbolize the "muzzling of freedom of speech."

BISHKEK -- Hundreds of protesters have rallied in Bishkek urging Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to veto new legislation that they say would curtail press freedom in the Central Asian state.

The protesters gathered near the railway station in the Kyrgyz capital on June 29 wearing medical masks, many of which had a large red "X" to symbolize the "muzzling of freedom of speech." They also held posters with slogans such as "We are not slaves," and "You can't stop us talking," as they marched toward the parliament building.

The draft law on manipulating information, approved by parliament last week, would allow the blocking of websites without a court order and compel companies to store and possibly hand over private user data if requested to do so by authorities.

Protesters In Kyrgyzstan Rally Against Bill They Say Would Hurt 'Freedom Of Speech'
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Some of the protesters held portraits of lawmakers who initiated the controversial law with large signs saying "Fake lawmaker" and called on lawmakers Gulshat Asybaeva and Ainura Osmonova, to resign.

The demonstrators also chanted "No quorum, means no law," referring to allegations by rights activists that several lawmakers had been caught voting on behalf of colleagues absent from the June 25 session at which the media bill was passed.

The protesters attempted to practice social distancing during the march and rally to comply with the Health Ministry requirements aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the bill, which will come into force after Jeenbekov signs it into law, authorities will not be required to get court backing to shut down or block websites containing information deemed to be “inaccurate” or “false” and to shut down social-media accounts deemed misleading.

It also requires real-name registration for website owners and social-media account owners.

Internet service providers (ISPs) 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.

Several domestic and international organizations last week urged Jeenbekov to reject the bill.