Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections on 4 October 2020 and their aftermath highlighted an urgent need to ensure that freedom of expression and information is upheld and that freedom of the media is protected. Kyrgyzstan should immediately bring its media and speech related legislation into full compliance with international freedom of expression standards and abstain from introducing illegitimate restrictions as for example, in the proposed Misinformation Bill. It should cease harassment of journalists and create an enabling environment for legacy and online media to flourish. ARTICLE 19 also reiterates the urgent need to allow freedom of the media in election periods in order to ensure that political parties and civil society groups are able to freely participate in the electoral process.
Free and fair elections and media freedom go hand in hand and are the foundations of democracy. Elections are not only about casting a vote in fair conditions, but about ensuring citizens are informed about candidates, parties, and their political platforms and candidates being able to communicate their messages and policies to the electorate. Digital technologies have provoked huge changes to both elections and freedom of expression over the past few decades and it is important that States respect and protect online expression in the context of elections.
Hence, in this briefing, ARTICLE 19 first outlines the key international freedom of expression standards applicable to elections. It then highlights key concerns in legal and policy framework and its application in Kyrgyzstan in the period prior to the October 2020 election. In the Annex which follows, ARTICLE 19 supplements the original briefing to discuss, inter alia, the media’s role in political transition, certain aspects of the right to protest and online safety of female journalists as well as to provide additional recommendations to the relevant stakeholders in Kyrgyzstan. This briefing does not attempt to comprehensively chronicle all developments relevant to freedom of expression and information in the country; instead, our objective is to identify key trends and make recommendations going forward from a freedom of expression perspective. We hope that this will provide an informed contribution to the debate in Kyrgyzstan, that is grappling with significant legal and political challenges, and assist future reforms in this area.
This publication has been produced with the financial support of the European Union through the Media Dialogue project. Its contents are the sole responsibility of ARTiCLE 19 and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.