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29 April 2016

China: restrictive law targeting foreign NGOs passed

On 28 April 2016, the standing committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing passed a law which will severely restrict the work of foreign NGOs in China. The National People's Congress is the Chinese Communist Party-controlled rubber stamp parliament. The law passed with 147 votes in favour to one against.

The 'Overseas NGOs’ Domestic Activities Management Law', which will take effect on 1 January 2017, will see foreign NGOs placed under the management of the Ministry of Public Security to whom NGOs will have to apply for registration if they want to operate in China. Chinese NGOs are regulated by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. In order to register and to open a representative office in China, foreign NGOs will have to find a 'professional supervisory unit', essentially a government agency or organisation, willing to sponsor the NGO and take responsibility for its work. It is virtually guaranteed that any foreign NGOs working on human rights issues will not be permitted to register. 

Foreign NGOs which are deemed to be engaged in work promoting 'subversion of state power' or 'separatism' will be placed on a blacklist and barred from entering the country. Individuals acting on behalf of foreign NGOs who are found to be engaged in these activities may be prosecuted, although these terms have not been defined. The law authorises police to closely monitor the work and financial records of foreign NGOs and specifically legalises the police to “invite for talks” the head representative of foreign NGOs at any time. Police will also have the power to revoke the registration or cancel activities which 'endanger national security' of foreign NGOs at any time. It has not been specified what type of activities may be defined as 'endangering national security'.   

Furthermore, the new law will make the support (financial or otherwise) of unregistered NGOs to individuals or organisations within mainland China illegal. This is likely to have a severe impact on domestic NGOs who work on so-called 'sensitive' issues, such as HIV/AIDS advocacy, human rights, workers' rights or gender issues. As many of these groups are unable to receive funding in China for their work, they are reliant on grants from overseas' organisations in order to carry out their activities.

The passing of this new law is the latest step in a prolonged assault against civil society and human rights defenders in China over the last two years which has seen NGOs shuttered, human rights lawyers detained en masse and human rights defenders sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in China to:

1. Withdraw the 'Overseas NGOs’ Domestic Activities Management Law', as the effect in practice of such legislation would be to significantly hinder international NGOs from carrying out their legitimate and peaceful activities in defence of human rights and would furthermore hinder the work of domestic Chinese NGOs by limiting their interactions with international organisations;

2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in China are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.