Crossroads Asia

Kyrgyzstan Bans Pornographic and Violent Movies

Pornography may be the headline item, but the list of prohibited topics is huge, including regime change and violence.

Catherine Putz
Kyrgyzstan Bans Pornographic and Violent Movies
Credit: Kenneth Lu / Flickr

Earlier this month Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov signed a decree establishing a special nine-person commission to examine audiovisual works (film and television, mostly) referred by Kyrgyzfilmofond, the state body responsible for registering films in the country, and determine if they contain pornographic or other prohibited activities.

Put simply: Kyrgyzstan is banning porn and a slew of questionable film subjects.

The decree, according to reporting by Kloop, went into effect on October 24. Previously, Kyrgyzfilmofond could only give recommendations and specific bans were carried through other means or by court. In 2015, Deputy Minister of Culture, Information, and Tourism Muktaly Bektenaliyev cited Soviet-era law in order to cancel matinee screenings of Fifty Shades of Grey. “Rules for distribution of motion pictures have been preserved since the days of the Soviet Union. Thus, films containing erotic scenes fall under the age limit of 18 and should be screened only in the evening,” he said. Now, the Kyrgyzfilmofond can refer a film to the new commission and it can prohibit the work.

Kyrgyzstan is not alone in wrestling with the fluid definition of obscenity. In the United States, the standard glib comment about the definition of porn — “I know it when I see it” — comes from a 1964 Supreme Court decision on a case in which an Ohio theater manager had been convicted under a state obscenity law. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction and later cases set out what has become the U.S. standard for what kinds of speech can be limited for being obscene. The U.S. standard, the evolved product of a more conservative court in the 1970s — which references the “average person, applying contemporary community standards” — is vague, and that criticism led to further clarifications. Among other things, the clarifications established an intermediate category of “indecent” materials which despite nonconformity to “accepted standards of morality” remain protected speech.

One of the major differences between the Kyrgyz and the U.S. cases is that the Kyrgyz dictum addresses a vastly broader category of works. While “porn” may be the headline item, the list of restricted categories is immense. From sexual intercourse, bestiality, and necrophilia, the prohibited list moves on to works that promote or propagate war, violence, cruelty, suicide, drugs, and regime change. Nazi symbols (or similar symbols) are also banned, along with anything judged to be promoting terrorism or terrorist organizations. The endlessly vague clause referencing the incitement of “national, ethnic, racial, social, or religious enmity” appears as well.

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Zanoza, a Kyrgyz news site, decided to make up a list of films appearing among IMDB’s top 30 films which would seem to fall under the ban. There’s The Godfather, with its violent, criminal, drug-trafficking Corleones; Schindler’s List, which depicts cruelty and Nazi operations; The Matrix, with its violence and main theme of destroying the robot regime in power; and The Lion King, which depicts a brother killing his brother and then attempting to kill his nephew and ends with the main character overthrowing the ruling regime. Zanoza’s list is satire,  pointing out the absurdity that results from the state’s overly broad list of prohibited topics.

Laws are one thing and enforcement another. We’ll have to see when the commission is set up, how liberal it is with assigning artistic merit to various troubling subjects. The commission’s nine members will be drawn from several state bodies including the culture ministry, law enforcement, national security, religious affairs, and when needed will consult experts across several relevant professions: teachers, psychologists, drug experts, sex experts, and theologians.