China’s crackdown on NGOs sparks UN protest

4 May 16

United Nations human rights experts have called on Beijing to repeal a controversial new law restricting the work of foreign NGOs in China.


Chinese president Xi Jinping

Chinese president Xi Jinping has overseen a major crackdown on civil society.


The law, which was adopted last week and comes into force next year, will give security forces control over foreign NGOs operating in the country and leave them open to criminal prosecution for activities which “damage national unity or subvert the state”.

In a joint statement, the UN’s special rapporteurs Maina Kiai (on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association), Michel Forst (on human rights) and David Kaye (on freedom of expression) warned that “excessively broad and vague provisions” could be used for intimidation and to suppress dissenting views.

“We remain deeply concerned that this law will severely hinder the work of civil society organisations whose work is deemed sensitive by authorities,” they added, noting that domestic NGOs that cooperate with or are funded by foreign NGOs could also be hindered.

The experts stated that the law is out of step with international human rights laws and standards relating to freedom of association and expression.

It would see any foreign NGO that wishes to operate in China after January 2017 obliged to register with Chinese security officials and only able to use bank accounts registered with them.

NGOs would be banned from conducting political or religious activities or acting in a way that damages China’s national interests, ethnic unity or subverts the state.

Criminal measures will be taken against individuals responsible for foreign NGOs that do not comply. Authorities will be able to ban any NGO found to have violated regulations for five years.

Until now foreign NGOs have operated in somewhat of a legal grey area in China, with no legislation governing their activities specifically.

The Chinese government has argued it needs to improve provisions to manage the estimated 7,000 NGOs now operating in the country.

However, critics see it as part of one of the harshest crackdowns on civil society in China in decades. Under the leadership of Chinese president Xi Jinping, journalists, activists and human rights lawyers have all been imprisoned.

They claim the Chinese leadership is adverse to ideas of democracy and freedom of speech, which they see as western ideals used by foreign agents to destabilise the authority of the Communist Party.

Other countries have also been controlling the activities of foreign NGOs in their country, including South Sudan, Egypt, Russia and India.

The UN’s experts reiterated their “so far... unanswered” requests to the Chinese government to bring the law and its “vastly intrusive provisions” in line with international norms and standards. 

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