Joint Letter: Freedom House Joins a Call to Repeal China’s NGO Law
To delegates of the National People’s Congress:
We, the undersigned, oppose in the strongest terms the Law on the Management of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations' Activities within Mainland China (“the Overseas NGO Law” or “the law”, 《中华人民共和国境外非政府组织境内活动管理法》), adopted by the Standing Committee of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) on April 28, 2016, and we call on NPC delegates to repeal this law.
A stable and effective Chinese society depends on diverse citizen-led organizations, free to operate independent of government intervention and free to seek the support of overseas NGOs, which can provide important resources, training and advocacy. The Overseas NGO Law severely harms Chinese civil society by attacking these principles. The law tasks Chinese civil society organizations with carrying out state control of overseas NGOs, converting local NGOs into instruments of the public security apparatus. This diverts NGOs’ efforts away from their important work to improve the lives of the Chinese people.
The law also impairs the ability of Chinese NGOs, universities, businesses, and even the Chinese government to engage with the global community. Efforts to gain information or resources, including technical expertise and partnerships, will often be monitored. Many aspects of programming and bank accounts are subject to tracking and intervention by the state. The law also draws an unclear and arbitrary division between so-called “welcome” and “unwelcome” NGOs. When combined with substantial police powers, these features leave the regulation of civil society vulnerable to politicization, and are inconsistent with international law principles set out by the UN Human Rights Council in Resolution 24/2014, which calls for States to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for civil society.
This law constrains opportunities for Chinese citizens, including together with overseas NGO partners, to develop new approaches to social problems affecting their country—social problems that, if left unchecked by civil society, could lead to greater instability and burden on the state.
During the past several years, Chinese public security has increasingly monitored and obstructed both domestic and overseas NGOs. This law now formalizes many of the problematic bureaucratic tools already in use against Chinese civil society organizations, and legalizes arbitrary police actions against domestic and overseas NGOs. Some of these previously informal practices now given a legal basis include:
- The Public Security Bureau can monitor and investigate NGOs at will;
- Police can detain NGO staff accused of conducting activities deemed to be ‘creating rumors,’ ‘engaging in defamation,’ or make ‘other situations that endanger state security or damage the national or public interest’;
- NGO activities carried out without prior approval are punishable as a crime;
- NGOs must report new employees to authorities;
- NGOs found to violate these vague rules may be banned from future activities in China.
The law’s vague provisions grant broad enforcement authority to China’s public security apparatus and legalize perpetual surveillance on Chinese NGO employees who seek to advance dignity and prosperity for their compatriots. Formalizing restrictions will further impede civil society’s ability to provide support to many Chinese that currently benefit from NGO programs, including women, internal migrants, minorities, and those concerned with other issues such as public health and education.
In addition to minimizing civil society’s influence as a body of independent citizens, this law, together with the recently passed Charity Law, signifies that the PRC government views civil society with suspicion. The state should see civil society organizations as partners who offer value and capacity to address many of the issues confronting Chinese society today.
We call on the NPC to restore trust in the Chinese people and repeal the Overseas NGO Law in order to allow Chinese NGOs greater freedom in their activities and advocacy.
In support of Chinese civil society,
Caring For China Center
Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty
China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group
China Human Rights Service Center
China Labour Bulletin
China Rights Defenders Friendship Association
Christian Solidarity Worldwide(CSW), UK
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
Human Rights in China
Independent Chinese PEN Center
Initiatives for China/Citizen Power for China
International Campaign for Tibet
PEN America Center
New School for Democracy
Reporters Without Borders
Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center
Taiwan Association for China Human Rights
Taiwan Association for Human Rights
Uyghur Human Rights Project
Uyghur-American Association (UAA)
China-based NGO 1*
China-based NGO 2*
China-based NGO 3*
China-based NGO 4*
China-based NGO 5*
*Some China-based NGOs were forced to remain anonymous for security reasons.