Civil Society Risk Spotlight: Asia

Civil Society Risk Spotlight: Asia

CSOs in Asia are experiencing significant to extensive government regulation.

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Out of the 10 Asian countries included in the Civil Society Risk Matrix, nine are currently experiencing significant to extensive amounts of additional government legislation or regulations targeting CSOs. These changes resulted in very significant impact in countries from mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia, and moderate to very significant impacts in the Philippines and Indonesia. However, across the region, CSOs face growing restrictions in the form of legislation related to cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, foreign contributions, and changes to tax rules.

The chart below summarizes the key types of legislation affecting CSO operations in Asia.

In March 2016, China's National People's Congress voted in favor of a new Charity Law that promises to expand the space for domestic charities, foundations, and nonprofits to operate. The law will be enacted in September 2016 and key provisions seek to cut red tape for greater transparency, registration and fund raising. In some cases, it would be legal for nonprofits to exist without registration. However, it remains unclear to what extent local authorities will implement the law, including promised tax incentives. The law is also unlikely to protect groups that deal with human rights and related issues. A separate NGO management law passed in April 2016, seeking to ban foreign nonprofits from sponsoring activities that "endanger national security" and to shift oversight of nonprofit groups, charities, and religious groups from the Ministry of Civil Affairs to the Ministry of Public Security. This can potentially force many out of the country.

In India, Pakistan, and Thailand, significant to extensive amounts of government activity has resulted in moderate to significant impacts on CSO activity and operations. Generally, CSOs are able to address restrictions through existing laws in these countries, and may choose to adjust programs to conform to the new operating environment. In Pakistan, for example, international and foreign NGOs were forced to re-register in June 2015 with the Interior Ministry instead of the Economic Affairs Division to continue operating in select areas of the country.1 However, approval was not guaranteed, particularly for NGOs deemed a threat to national security. In addition, as India’s recent tightening of oversight on foreign-funded NGOs demonstrates, simply adapting to new regulations may be increasingly difficult in practice, especially for CSOs that lack the expertise, capacity, or resources to respond to administrative, tax, and other regulatory requirements.

Government action in Indonesia and Bangladesh has been only moderately significant for CSO activity. CSOs are able to use existing laws to contest new restrictions or can choose to adapt programming to conform to the new operating environment while only implementing moderate changes to programming.

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