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25 May 2016

Bangladesh - Parliamentary body proposes to deregister NGOs commenting against authorities

Update 5 October 2016: Parliament passes Foreign Donations Regulation Bill to deregister NGOs commenting against authorities.

On 18 May 2016, a parliamentary Committe 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.

The amendment to the bill was first proposed in November 2015, following a dispute between Bangladeshi MPs and the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB). When TIB published a report criticising the parliament, the Committee recommended to terminate their registration. The Committee also suggested that any NGO making derogatory comments should cease its activities.

The first draft of the Foreign Donations Regulation Act was approved in June 2014 and in September 2015 it was presented before the Parliament, but it is yet to be approved. According to the law, NGOs receiving foreign funds must register with the government’s NGO Affairs Bureau and seek its approval for all their projects and activities. If they fail to comply with this requirement, their registration might be cancelled or suspended.

National and international organisations have expressed strong concerns, as they fear this law might restrict freedom of expression and freedom of association. In November 2015, Maini Kiai, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, urged the Bangladeshi parliament not to adopt the bill and said the act could severely restrict civil society organisations’ access to funding and hinder their activities.

Front Line Defenders is concerned that the Foreign Donations Regulation Act and the proposed amendment 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 amend the current draft and hold further consultations with civil society to bring the Act in compliance with international human rights standards.