After the third revolution, Kyrgyzstan moves further away from democracy
October marks a year since protests against the results of a contested election in Kyrgyzstan led to the overthrow of the country’s government and promises of a revival of democracy. It didn’t quite work out that way.
In October 2020, Kyrgyzstan experienced a political whirlwind after the country’s opposition refused to accept the results of a parliamentary election in which two parties close to the then country’s president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, won. a large majority of seats.
After a day and night of violent clashes in the capital Bishkek, in which protesters broke into the country’s parliament and other government buildings, freeing “political prisoners” – including Sadyr Japarov, a former MP who was serving an 11-year sentence for his role in a kidnapping – the Kyrgyzstan Central Election Commission overturned the results.
Within days, Japarov had been installed as interim prime minister. A week later, after Jeenbekov resigned, Japarov also took over the presidency.
Japarov rose to prominence after the 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, in which Askar Akayev’s 15-year reign ended after another contested parliamentary election. Japarov supported the revolution and, in the following elections, was elected deputy.
In the 2007 parliamentary elections, Japarov was on the ballot for the nationalist party Ak Jol, which won the majority of seats. However, instead of continuing as a parliamentarian, Japarov instead became an adviser to President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had been elected after Akayev’s ouster two years earlier.
Kyrgyzstan fell into chaos again in 2010. Protests began against the Bakiev government in the spring, with protesters accusing it of breaking promises. In addition, rising prices for public services and open corruption – largely linked to Bakiev and his family – have boiled over to frustration. A bloody uprising ensued – the country’s second revolution – after which Bakiyev resigned.
In January 2021, Japarov was confirmed as president following a landslide victory in the presidential election, in which he obtained nearly 79% of the vote.
A disturbing new constitution
Since then, Japarov has overseen the installation of an increasingly authoritarian regime in what had so far been one of the most prosperous – albeit turbulent – democracies in Central Asia.
A new constitution – though approved in a referendum in April – has been criticized by Human Rights Watch for undermining human rights and weakening the checks and balances needed to prevent abuse of power.
It grants the president the power to initiate laws and referendums, which was previously the prerogative of parliament. The president also now has the right to appoint the prime minister, remove MPs’ immunity from criminal prosecution and reduce the number of MPs from 120 to 90.
An election for the new parliament will take place in November.
Before the elections, Japarov’s regime increasingly targets Kyrgyz civil society and the opposition.
On August 30, representatives of Reforma, a pro-democracy opposition party, claimed that the country’s police had bugged civilian activists and opposition politicians.
Klara Sooronkulova, a leader of the Reforma party, posted a message on Facebook claiming that the surveillance primarily targets individuals who “boldly and openly express their views and criticize current state policies.”
On August 31, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry admitted to tracking phones for a month, from January 6 to February 10.
However, the ministry claimed the phones were only tapped as part of an investigation into the political unrest from the previous October, claiming its actions were legal, having been approved by the Bishkek District Court. .
Nonetheless, all politicians whose phones had been tapped criticized the government, including Social Democratic Party leader Temirlan Sultanbekov and former presidential candidates Kursan Asanov and Abdil Segizbaev.
Anna Jordanova, a researcher at the Association for International Affairs, a Prague-based think tank, said that although judges approved the wiretapping, the independence of the judiciary in Kyrgyzstan remains highly questionable.
“The pressure of the current regime against the militants must be seen in the context of a larger power struggle between various factions in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the efforts of the Japarov administration to secure and strengthen its position,” he said. she declared. Emerging europe.
Urmat Djanybaev, an activist, says that instead of building open governance, Japarov “returned to a time of Stalinist repression.”
The law on “fake news”
Wiretapping is not the method used to stifle dissent.
On July 28, parliament approved controversial legislation, allegedly introduced to tackle “fake” news.
Civilian activists believe the law – which gives the government the power to control the availability of information on any Internet page – will further undermine freedom of expression on the Internet and suppress critical views of the government.
While it’s not yet clear which public body will enforce the law, it gives authorities the power to order network providers to block content containing any information the government deems “false.”
The legislation was originally proposed in June 2020 by two MPs, Gulshat Asylbaeva and Ainura Osmonova.
The couple said the law would help “protect the honor and dignity of those tainted with misrepresentation online.”
However, according to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), the law is identical to Russian legislation, passed in 2014, which restricts the use of information and telecommunications networks.
When the law was presented to parliament in June, it initially failed to secure the votes of a sufficient number of MPs.
Less than a month later, however, it was adopted, following a plea from Japarov during an “informal dinner” with MPs.
According to the Media Policy Institute, a Kyrgyz human rights watchdog, the law should not have been sent back to parliament so soon: MPs are forced to wait six months before voting again on a bill. law which they previously rejected.
Towards more instability
Independent journalists, human rights defenders and academics in the country have also become targets of the regime, with defamation accusing them of disseminating “Western ideas” and “LGBT propaganda”.
In the meantime, another bill – this time hampering the work of non-governmental organizations – has also been introduced.
Largely mirroring Russia’s famous “Foreign Agent Law”, it places onerous financial and reporting requirements on NGOs.
The US State Department has said it “threatens the ability of non-governmental organizations to improve the lives of citizens and hinders vital NGO efforts to assist the government in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
According to the Media Policy Institute, the two new bills were passed only to “protect the authorities from public criticism”.
Anna Jordanova said: “Any government intervention in freedom of expression must be widely discussed by the majority of society, the oversight bodies (including the courts), and their authority must be clearly defined; appeals processes must proceed expeditiously. The whole agenda should be open, clear and understandable. I do not see such conditions in Kyrgyzstan today.
“Longer term, I think Kyrgyzstan is heading for more instability. “
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