Over the past years, states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have undergone a period of profound upheaval. In this report, ARTICLE 19, together with partners of the Civic Solidarity Platform, examine anti-extremism laws and policies across the region, which have often expanded under the pretext of responding to rising challenges. In addition, we assessed the implementation of these laws and policies to examine their compatibility with the international standards on freedom of expression.
The Eastern Europe and Central Asia region has been marked by a series of significant events that have heightened tensions and affected the socio-political landscape.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic brought about extensive government measures, which in turn sparked stark public reactions and protests against imposed restrictions.
Widespread protests in Belarus, triggered by rigged 2020 elections, met with a brutal crackdown aimed at complete destruction of civil society in the country. In Kazakhstan, mass protests were forcibly suppressed, while the Republic of Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan experienced the suppression of dissenting voices. Further complicating the situation were conflicts along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border and protests followed by a military operation in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan.
Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine radically exacerbated the region’s instability. The persecution of individuals involved in anti-war protests further underscored the growing unrest. Importantly, these events have further intensified a rise in authoritarian tendencies, casting a shadow over the prospects of stability and democratic values in the region.
While measures intended to counteract terrorism and extremism may have a legitimate aim to address concrete threats, there is a growing trend across the region where such legislation is increasingly wielded as a tool to curtail civil rights and hinder public participation. Major concerns include the excessive and sometimes unjustified prosecution of individuals for ‘incitement to violence’, overbroad criminalisation or ‘discreditation’ in retaliation for criticising authorities, sanctions for the distribution of unjustifiably prohibited materials or symbols, severe penalties for mere formal affiliation with organisations designated as extremist or terrorist, and the extensive practice of blocking internet pages and resources.
ARTICLE 19 and partners from the Working Group of Civic Solidarity Platform on Counterterrorism, Anti-extremism and Human Rights put forward several recommendations to address the concerning pattern of the misuse and overreach of anti-terrorism and extremism laws. These include:
- Align anti-extremism and counter-terrorism laws and practices with international human rights laws
- Ensure the definition of extremism is precise, and restricted to a specific set of actions directly linked with violence
- Countries should avoid criminalising unethical, unpopular, or oppositional speech on public matters and abandon the practice of compiling lists of ‘prohibited materials’
- Countries should refrain from imposing excessive punishments, revise their legal frameworks, and release individuals subjected to such measures