A draft bill in Kyrgyzstan aimed at marginalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual communities has once again hit the buffers, raising faint hopes of a reprieve for the country’s embattled sexual minorities.
On May 24, a parliamentary subcommittee proposed holding up the bill for a fresh second reading — an unusual move since progress to a third and final review for legislation is typically a formality.
Kyrgyzstan’s anti-LGBT bill was first proposed in May 2014 and closely mirrored a law approved by Russia’s State Duma the year before. But in addition to the fine for the dissemination of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” envisioned by the Russian law, the Kyrgyz bill also proposed jail terms of up to one year for those who “promote homosexual relations” through the media or among children.
The head of the committee on rule of law, order and fighting crime, Janybek Bakchiev, said that although the bill had already passed through two readings in the previous session of parliament, another second-tier examination was required.
“Considering that this [new session of] parliament has not yet discussed this bill — and I think this is a very ambiguous issue important for society — it deserves to be discussed by the MPs of the current parliament,” Bakchiev told the committee. His suggestion was unanimously approved by the committee.
Bakchiev did not elaborate on the specific motivations for further scrutiny, however.
After two years of tortuous debates in parliament, civil society in Kyrgyzstan has cause for celebration.
A contentious bill, modeled on a similar piece of legislation in Russia, that would in an earlier form have seen internationally funded nongovernment group designated as “foreign agents” was rejected by Kyrgyz deputies on May 12.
Out of the 111 members of parliament present, 65 voted against the bill, which was undergoing its third and final reading.
The legislation was first presented in 2014 by Tursunbai Bakir Uulu and Nurkamil Madaliev, two deputies that have since left parliament, and has proceeded in fits and starts ever since.
In the days preceding parliament’s final decision on the bill, rights groups mounted a lively campaign of opposition. On May 11, around a dozen activists rallied in front of parliament, urging deputies to reject the bill.
Tolekan Ismailova, head of the Bir Duino human rights organization, which gathers information on cases of torture and corruption, said at the protest that the bill was “discriminatory and inhumane”.
“A group of MPs started promoting this bill and we could see that the hand of the Kremlin was behind this,” Ismailova told Kloop.kg. “The discrimination concerns those NGOs that monitor corruption and the activities of parliament.”
But on May 12, some deputies came out in their strongest opposition yet to the legislation. Janar Akayev, a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDPK), suggested the bill would dent Kyrgyzstan’s democratic credentials.
In an apparent climbdown, a parliamentary committee in Kyrgyzstan has hastily rushed through a watered-down version of Russian-inspired legislation that would have seen many nongovernmental groups billed as “foreign agents.”
The Human Rights and Constitutional Legislation Committee spent less than a minute discussing the revised bill at its usual weekly hearing on April 12.
The draft law was first proposed in 2014 by former deputies Tursunbai Bakir Uulu and Nurkamil Madaliev, only to then make its way through parliament at snail’s pace. The overhauled version is hard to recognize from the original and will be considered at a plenary hearing of parliament on April 14.
While the previous draft bill proposed to label both Kyrgyz and foreign-based non-profit organizations that engage in any deemed to be “political activity” and receive outside funding as “foreign agents,” this term has now been quietly dropped.
The new document instead proposes the term “foreign non-commercial organization” to describe entities founded outside Kyrgyzstan that do not pursue profit-making purposes. Foreign government will not be allowed to found such groups.
And rather than requiring the submission of onerous and time-consuming paperwork to the Justice Ministry, as required in the original draft bill, the non-commercial organizations will now just have to publish an annual report online containing a breakdown of expenditure and display who is providing funding.
Months after breaking off a long-standing deal with Russian companies to build two major hydropower projects, Kyrgyzstan has found a potential white knight in the form of a major Chinese investor.
Kyrgyzstan deputy Prime Minister Oleg Pankratov met with representatives of China’s State Power Investment Corporation on April 6 to discuss plan to build a cascade of four hydropower stations on the Naryn River. Collectively, the cascade is expected to generate around 4.6 billion kilowatt hours annually — more than either of the now-scotched Russian projects.
“We are carrying out work on a few projects to develop new generating capacities that will allow us, in the near future, to considerably increase the amount of power produced. This is of special importance, because energy consumption is growing every year that passes”, Pankratov was quoted as saying by KyrTag news agency.
An official for the state-owned electricity provider State Power Investment Corporation told Kyrgyz media that they have assessed the potential of the Central Asian nation’s hydropower potential and feel ready to begin work on building the 1,150 megawatt Kazarman hydropower cascade.
The terms of the deal are not yet known, however.
According to the company website, Beijing-based State Power Investment Corporation holds assets in hydropower, thermal and nuclear power and has registered capital of $7 billion and total assets worth $120 billion.
In January, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to cancel earlier hydropower construction deals with the Russian companies leading the projects, citing lack of progress in work.
In the months following the cleanest elections ever held in Kyrgyzstan, several elected deputies suddenly lost their seats, and, in the process, revealed the shadowy horse-trading that passes for politics in Central Asia’s most lively parliament.
A sudden deployment of troops by Uzbekistan along a disputed section of border has rattled nerves in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service reported on March 18 that Uzbek troops have blocked an unmarked section of the frontier linking the localities of Kerben and Ala-Buka, two areas of Kyrgyzstan lying either side of a spur of Uzbekistan.
Officials said Uzbekistan’s military deployed armored personnel carriers, two Kamaz trucks and up to 40 troops to the disputed area, which is around 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the Ferghana city of Namangan.
The Foreign Ministry in Bishkek summoned Uzbek ambassador Komil Rashidov and handed him a note of protest. The letter demanded that Uzbek forces dismantle checkpoints set up in the border area.
Sections of the border between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, as well as Tajikistan, zigzag haphazardly for several hundred kilometers, requiring local people to either undertake long detours or traverse the neighboring nation’s territory, which can entail long waits.
Uzbek forces have closed the Madaniyat-Avtodorozhnyi crossing and are barring Kyrgyz citizens from entering Uzbekistan through the Dostuk-Avtodorozhnyi crossing. People are being allowed to leave Uzbekistan through the latter crossing, but cannot re-enter.
In response to the Uzbek deployments, Kyrgyzstan’s armed forces on March 19 dispatched two troop carriers of their own to the same area, explaining that they needed to bolster border security. Bishkek said it would draw back the troops as soon as Uzbekistan recalls its own forces.
A video now circulating on social media platforms in Kyrgyzstan is highlighting a persistent and problematic trend – the intimidation of Kyrgyz women by self-styled conservative patriots, both at home and abroad.
The editor of a newspaper in Kyrgyzstan was assaulted outside his home last week in an ominous throwback to the kind of attacks that became commonplace under former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Turat Akimov, who edits the newspaper Dengi i Vlast, said he was unable to identify his assailant.
“A tall, athletic man in a baseball cap was hiding behind the fence. He hit me twice with an iron rod. Once on my head and then my hand. After I hit him back, he dropped the rod and fled,” Akimov told Russian news agency Sputnik, recalling the attack in Bishkek on February 19.
The reporter said he required medical treatment after the assault and went to the hospital to have his arm put in plaster and stitches in a head wound.
Akimov explicitly identifies as an opposition journalist and said that he believes the attack was motivated by his reporting.
It should be noted, however, that his newspaper no longer has its own website, is extremely low profile and appears to specialize primarily in editorializing and loosely researched muck-raking.
In a 2014 interview to Kyrgyz language newspaper Maidan.kg, Akimov explains how he was subjected to a gagging order to prevent him publishing extracts from a book claiming that 300 inmates died during the tenure of a director of prisons under President Askar Akayev, who was overthrown in 2005. In the book, it is claimed the same official sold the bodies of dead inmates to German anatomist Gunther Von Hagens, who achieved notoriety in the 1990s with his public exhibitions of human remains preserved in plastic.
As should probably have been expected, a countersuit filed by journalist Dayirbek Orunbekov against the president of Kyrgyzstan has fallen at the first hurdle.
Pervomaisky district court’s ruling on February 15 was clear — Almazbek Atambayev did not insult the editor of Kyrgyz-language news website Maalymat.kg.
Orunbekov has already said he will appeal the decision within the month at a city court in the capital, Bishkek.
The dispute dates back to late 2014, when Orunbekov ran a story accusing Atambayev of being implicated in the 2010 ethnic clashes in Osh between Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities that left several hundred dead. Atambayev only assumed the presidency after winning an election in 2011, but he was serving in the interim government that took power after the bloody overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010.
The General Prosecutor’s Office responded to the piece by filing a defamation lawsuit in April 2015 against Orunbekov.
Orunbekov lost the case and was ordered to pay $26,000 in damages to Atambaev.
Media advocacy groups were unimpressed.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s media rights watchdog Dunja Mijatovic in December urged Kyrgyzstan to desist from slapping onerous penalties on journalists for civil defamation.
“Excessive fines imposed on journalists and media outlets as a means of protecting the head of a state can lead to self-censorship,” Mijatovic said at the time. “Disproportionate and high fines are detrimental to freedom of the media.”
These rebukes tend to fall on deaf ears in the region, so Orunbekov took matters into his own hands by filing a countersuit in retaliation for Atambayev accusing him of being a slanderer-for-hire. The president leveled his accusation during the annual end-of-year press conference in December.