Kyrgyz policemen detain a women's rights activist in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on, March 8, 2020. The country's parliament recently passed a bill that would restrict online expression.(AP/Vladimir Voronin)

Kyrgyzstan draft legislation empowers government to block ‘false information’ online

New York, June 25, 2020 – Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbay Jeenbekov should reject recently proposed legislation that would mark a serious step toward curtailing press freedom in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Today, the country’s parliament held the second and third readings of proposed legislation called “On Manipulating Information” and passed it by a vote of 79 to 10, according to media reports. If signed by Jeenbekov, it will go into effect, according to those reports.

In its current form, the bill empowers authorities, without a court order, to shut down or block websites containing information deemed to be “inaccurate” or “false” and to shut down social media accounts deemed false, according to the draft legislation published on the parliament’s website. It also requires real-name registration for website owners and social media account owners, according to the draft.

The bill also requires internet service providers to store user data, including photos, audio, and video, for up to six months and share that data with government agencies upon request. It is not clear how this would be enforced.

“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,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “President Sooronbay Jeenbekov 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.”

The bill’s text does not provide definitions of “manipulation” or “false” information, nor does it specify the entity that will make this determination or the mechanism for shutting down or blocking websites or accounts.

Adilet, a local legal clinic, issued an analysis of the bill that expressed concern that the legislation could be used to create a new government agency to censor media. That analysis argued that current legislation provides sufficient recourse in the civil courts for handling allegations of inaccurate information.

The Civil Initiative on Internet Policy, a local think tank, also published an analysis, which said that the bill violated human rights and Kyrgyzstan’s international obligations. Both analyses said the bill was largely based on Russian legislation on “fake news,” which CPJ has condemned.

The bill passed its first reading in parliament on June 17, with 102 votes in favor and 4 against, according to the parliament’s website.