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5 October 2016

Bangladesh - Parliament passes Foreign Donations Regulation Bill to deregister NGOs commenting against authorities

On 5 October 2016, the Parliament of Bangladesh passed the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill 2016. This bill will further restrict the space for human rights NGOs in Bangladesh.

According to the bill, any foreign funded NGO which engages in anti-state activities and finances extremism and terror activities, or "making derogatory comments about the Constitution and constitutional institutions” of Bangladesh would be considered as offences. The NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) supervised by the Prime Minister’s Office are granted authority to cancel or withhold the legal registration of foreign funded NGO or ban its activities for committing the offence.

Foreign funded NGOs are required to register with the NGOAB, submit reports and seek approval for all their activities before receiving the foreign grant. The NGOAB will also be inspecting, monitoring and assessing NGOs’ activities and approve the hiring of any foreign specialist or advisers.

On 18 May 2016, a parliamentary Committee proposed to introduce a provision in the Foreign Donations Regulations Act, to take actions against NGOs making “insulting or derogatory remarks” on constitutional bodies.

The Committee Chair, Suranjit Sengupta, said in a press conference that NGOs must “honour the country’s constitutional bodies, including parliament, the attorney general and the judiciary”. He also said NGOs should be able to criticise, but not be abusive. If this amendment is approved, NGOs commenting against the authorities may face sanctions or closure.

The parliamentary committee only used vague terms in its recommendations and did not clarify which type of remarks can be considered insulting and derogatory.

Front Line Defenders is concerned that the Foreign Donations Regulation bill fall short of international standards relating to the right to freedom of association, and that the law will further restrict the space for human rights NGOs in Bangladesh. Front Line Defenders urges the Bangladeshi parliament to repeal the current bill and to refrain from passing it into law.