Rights activists and groups have condemned the passage of the Foreign Donations (voluntary activities) Regulation Bill, 2016 in parliament as repressive since it provides a provision of cancelling registration of NGOs for making malicious and derogatory statements against the constitution and constitutional bodies among other reasons.
The law also makes it mandatory for NGOs to take prior approval from the NGO Affairs Bureau to undertake any project and implement it with foreign donations, reports BSS.
Apart from making offensive remarks, it empowers the government to revoke registration of the NGOs for their involvement in subversive activities, terror and militant financing and patronising, and women and children trafficking.
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, also in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office in parliament, moved the bill in the House for its passage on Wednesday. The bill was passed with voice votes with Deputy Speaker Fazley Rabbi Miah in the chair.
The bill will empower the NGO Affairs Bureau, which is under the direct supervision of the PMO, to inspect, monitor and assess activities of the NGOs operating in the country.
NGOs receiving foreign funds must register with the Bureau and seek approval for all planned activities before receiving the grant, it says.
On July 25, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Suranjit Sengupta placed the report on the bill in parliament.
The cabinet approved the bill on June 2, 2014.
Executive Director of the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International (TIB) Iftekharuzzaman told the Dhaka Tribune that the bill on cancellation of the registration of NGOs for offensive statement against the state would be contradictory to the constitutional right of freedom of speech.
“I think the country's NGO personnel abstain from delivery of any malicious or offensive statements against the state,” he said.
The government's objective of establishing good governance in the country would not be succeeded if it shuts down NGOs for criticisms against the government activities.
“The government has given licence to operate NGOs for the betterment of country's people and help free the country from corruption and misappropriation of public money,” Iftekhar added.
SHUJAN Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar thinks such a decision is an infringement of the international law that Bangladesh has ratified.
“The right to expression is one of the fundamental rights. The constitution has ratified the international law to freedom of speech.
“The democratic system will be at faults if such laws are implemented. It will invite dire consequences and tarnish the image of the country if any individual or organisation is restricted to speak,” Badiul told the Dhaka Tribune.
Rights activist Khushi Kabir said:
“It is a democratic right to talk about any issues. However, the practice of making comments should be honest and truthful. If the government asks the NGOs beforehand not to pass any remarks, then they will refrain from disseminating information.”
Meanwhile, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an OMCT-FIDH partnership) has demanded that the “highly controversial and internationally criticised” law be revoked since it would further repress critical human rights work in Bangladesh.
“The absurdity is that freedom of expression is a constitutional right in Bangladesh. Yet it is a right that is no longer afforded to those who question the institutions that govern the country,” said Gerald Staberock, secretary general of World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).
“The bill, besides being manifestly anti-democratic, leaves no doubt that the intention is to shut down any existing human rights work and critical voices in the country. This is a sad day for Bangladesh, as silence is the end of democracy and the beginning of insecurity,” Staberock said in a statement on Thursday.
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) President Dimitris Christopoulos said: “This bill imposes disproportionate restrictions on freedoms of expression and association in Bangladesh, in violation of international human rights standards. Therefore, it represents a real threat to the legitimate activities of independent NGOs.”
In November last year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association Maina Kiai urged the Bangladeshi parliament not to adopt the bill, stressing that “registered and unregistered NGOs should be able to operate and function freely without prior authorisation or other undue impediments.”