Human Rights Watch (HRW) says legal amendments being considered by Kyrgyz lawmakers would put the political opposition and human rights groups at greater risk in the Central Asian nation.
The rights group said in a statement on May 3 that the amendments -- proposed by the Interior Ministry and approved by Kyrgyz lawmakers in the first reading last month -- would broaden the scope for the criminal prosecution of organizations deemed "extremist' to include those found to incite "political enmity," along with national, ethnic, or racial enmity, and to make financing such "extremist" organizations a criminal offense.
"Adding vague language about 'extremism' and 'political enmity' to Kyrgyz law will open the door to abuse, putting peaceful groups critical of government policy at enormous risk," said Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at HRW. "Kyrgyz authorities should not introduce overbroad criminal law provisions that endanger freedom of association and speech."
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The draft law will enter into force after it passes two more parliamentary readings and is signed by President Sadyr Japarov, who took over the former Soviet republic in the wake of a deep political crisis sparked by mass protests against official results of parliamentary elections in October that led to resignation of Japarov's predecessor, Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
HRW said in the statement that it had found that, despite some reforms, existing Kyrgyz laws on countering extremism have been applied unevenly and that its overly broad definition allowed for its misuse against political opponents, journalists, and religious and ethnic minorities.
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'The Kyrgyz Criminal Code already contains articles that provide severe penalties for political crimes, such as attempting to violently overthrow the government,' the HRW statement said.
"Following months of political tensions, the Kyrgyzstan government should show its citizens and the world that it still supports strong human rights standards. These amendments to the legal codes should be rejected if Kyrgyzstan hopes to stay true to its international human rights commitments," Sultanalieva said.
Japarov has praised the constitutional changes, which he initiated, saying they are needed to create a strong central branch of government to 'establish order.'
In a March report, the watchdog Freedom House singled out Kyrgyzstan as being among nations recording the biggest losses in scores for political rights and civil liberties.
The report said Japarov has 'advanced a new draft constitution that could reshape Kyrgyzstan's political system in the mold of its authoritarian neighbors.'
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