This analysis has been prepared by ARTICLE 19 in order to contribute to the stakeholder consultations that the Government of Kyrgyzstan is currently holding on the Draft Amendments to the Law on Countering Terrorism (the Draft Law). The Draft Law was developed by the National Committee of State Security, allegedly “to ensure harmonisation of laws and regulations of the republic in the sphere of countering terrorism.” It was put forward for public discussion at the end of March, soon after the state of emergency was declared in the country due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Our conclusion is that the Draft Law requires a very significant revision in order to comply with Kyrgyzstan’s international freedom of expression obligations as it amounts to the complete abolishment of freedom of expression within the sphere of counterterrorism. The limits that the it sets on information and opinion are so narrow that virtually any critical views diverging from an official narrative or any information going beyond what is authorised by the state in the field of counter-terrorism can be easily penalised. This makes it virtually impossible to meaningfully exercise one’s right to freedom of expression on issues related to terrorism, and, particularly, for the media to act as public watchdog in an area of such obvious and profound public importance.
ARTICLE 19 highlights that it is indispensable that all state responses to terrorism, from broad policies to the handling of specific counter-terror operations, are subject to rigorous independent scrutiny by the media, civil society and the public at large. Freedom of expression is not only a cornerstone of a free democratic society but also an enabler for the realisation of other human rights and a necessary condition for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability. Consequently, the Draft Law’s guiding presumption that freedom of expression is in collision with the state’s duty to protect the lives and safety of its citizens is both false and counterproductive to effective and human rights compliant counterterrorist policies and practices.
The present analysis is confined to the Draft Law at hand. We note, however, that many of its problematic speech restrictions already exist in the current Law on Countering Terrorism and other legislation, including the Criminal Code. While the analysis does not specifically address any legislation currently in force, it is self-evident that to the extent that its provisions discussed below overlap with the existing legislation, our conclusions and recommendations equally apply to the latter. To some extent, the Draft Law would be a backward step, as it seeks to expand the existing scope of prohibited expression by introducing a broader and more ambiguous definition of terrorist activity and imposing additional restrictions on the media. Having said that, simply scrapping this Draft Law will not resolve the serious problems with the existing legislation.
ARTICLE 19 urges the Government to subject the Draft Law to a rigorous and comprehensive human rights impact assessment prior to its finalisation. We hope that our analysis will help in this task by highlighting the potential negative consequences of the current version of the Draft Law for freedom of expression. We also urge the Government to use this opportunity to improve the current legislative framework in order to bring it in line with Kyrgyzstan’s international obligations on freedom of expression.
This publication has been translated with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of ARTICLE 19 and the Media Dialogue project and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.