Kyrgyzstan’s third review under the UPR has taken place amid increasing concerns over freedom of expression in the country. We are particularly concerned about attempts to control and restrict freedom of expression on the Internet as part of the state of emergency enacted in response to COVID-19, including the adoption of the Information Manipulation Act in June 2020. In recent months, we have also seen an increase in the number of independent journalists and media organisations called in for questioning due to criticism of the authorities in relation to social media.
We welcome the acceptance of recommendations to enhance the protection of journalists and to create favourable conditions for freedom of the media, both online and offline. We call on the Government of Kyrgyzstan to fully implement these recommendations.
We also welcome the fact that the Government of Kyrgyzstan has adopted some recommendations to prevent the misuse of legislation on extremism, terrorism, incitement and defamation against independent media and criticism. However we note with concern the lack of acceptance of Denmark’s recommendation to amend broad definitions of extremism in the Law on countering extremist activities. We call on the interagency working group to ensure any new wording of the law fully upholds international human rights standards.
We also remain deeply concerned that Kyrgyzstan has not explicitly accepted the recommendation from Estonia to amend Article 313 of the Criminal Code on incitement and bring it in line with international standards. Article 313 provides for a minimum of 5.5 years’ imprisonment for ‘incitement’ offences without providing lesser sanctions for first-time offences, in bringing sanctions neither the consequences of the speech or action are considered, nor whether they reach the threshold of incitement under international human rights law. This provision has been applied not to tackle incitement, but to censor open debate and discussion on taboo subjects. We call for a review of this law to make it clear that incitement requires proof of intent and the likelihood that such acts will provoke violence, and for there to be proportionate sanctions for different types of acts.
We support the ongoing dialogue between the Kyrgyz Government and civil society in the framework of the implementation of the UPR recommendations, in particular to ensure that responses to COVID-19 are in line with these recommendations. In the context of both elections and problems related to the response to COVID-19, the UPR recommendations related to freedom of expression and information are even more important today for strengthening freedom and democracy in Kyrgyzstan.