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Kyrgyz ‘Foreign Representatives’ Bill Passes First Reading in Parliament

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Kyrgyz ‘Foreign Representatives’ Bill Passes First Reading in Parliament

The bill must be passed in three readings before heading to the president, but time is growing short for amendments to be made.

Kyrgyz ‘Foreign Representatives’ Bill Passes First Reading in Parliament
Credit: Depositphotos

The controversial “foreign representatives” law passed its first reading in the Kyrgyz parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, on October 25 without debate. A bill must be passed in three parliamentary readings before being sent to the president for signature into law, a process that can move swiftly or stall indefinitely. The bill’s author, Nadira Narmatova, told a Butun Kyrgyzstan deputy who spoke against the bill, Gulya Kozhokulova, that they would try to consider her concerns and proposals during the second reading. 

Earlier this month, the bill was approved by two committees and subject to a comment period, during which a wide array of voices aired concerns. The draft law would introduce additional reporting requirements for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as add criminal liability for a failure to register as a “foreign representative.” 

Those speaking to the bill’s possible impacts include the United Nations’ representative in the Kyrgyz Republic, Antje Grawe, who noted that NGOs play a significant role as partners to the U.N. and other development actors in reaching rural communities and vulnerable populations. If adopted, she said, the law risks causing “disruptions, in the best-case scenario, and [bringing] to an end, in the worst-case scenario” of support that is channeled from U.N. agencies through NGOs in Kyrgyzstan. That, Grawe continued, risks ultimately “undermining the aspirations and hopes of Kyrgyzstan’s people for a better life and future. And, let there be no doubt: it would primarily affect the most vulnerable in the society.”

Even Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court and Prosecutor General’s Office aired concerns with specific aspects of the law in its present form. While the Supreme Court did not oppose the bill’s concept, its representative Margarita Sapiyanova said during the parliament hearings, it did express the opinion that the criminal liability introduced by the bill should be removed. The  Prosecutor General’s Office similarly did not oppose the bill outright, but argued that existing laws already provide punishment for legal violations by commercial and other organizations, meaning there was no need to introduce new criminal liabilities specifically for NGOs.

This was a critique echoed by Kozhokulova. According to RFE/RL, she remarked, “What kind of crime is participation in a non-governmental organization? You don’t get jailed for participating. The concept is dangerous because of this.”

Members of Kyrgyz civil society have appealed to the country’s Western partners to refuse visas for Narmatova and other proponents of the bill, as well as members of their families, arguing that is is “unacceptable that deputies who initiate and promote bills that restrict the rights to freedom of speech, opinions, association not only of citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic, but also of foreigners, at the same time do not deny themselves visiting Europe and the United States, opening a business there, acquiring real estate, and also send their children and loved ones there for education, vacation, and permanent residence.”

Although the number of official co-sponsors of Narmatova’s bill has dropped from 39 in May when the effort to pass some kind of “foreign agents” law was resurrected (after failing in 2016), to 25 as of September 19, to 19 as of October 25, 52 deputies supported the bill in its first reading and only seven opposed it (Note: Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has 90 members in total. It’s not clear from present reporting where the other 31 were or where they stand on the bill).

Dastan Bekeshev, an independent deputy in the parliament, called the public discussion held earlier this month “empty.” He suggested that pressure to pass the bill originated from outside the parliament: “This is still geopolitics and pressure, possibly from individual countries.” Bekeshev said that deputies opposed to the bill will suggest amendments by the second reading, but he did not seem optimistic. “And if it doesn’t work out, we will wait for changes in geopolitics in the world and, perhaps, then changes will come.”

According to, which analyzed the first version of Narmatova’s bill when it was first floated in November 2022, 90 percent of the text was identical to Russia’s infamous 2012 “foreign agents” law.

It’s not clear when the second reading will be scheduled or whether amendments will be made to the law. The 2016 effort to pass a similar bill failed in its third reading.