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ICC Note:

According to local Christian groups working in Bangladesh, the government has closed down 200 Christian NGOs operating in the country with a law passed last year. The Foreign Donations Regulation Bill, passed in October 2016, was meant to be a check on terrorist cells receiving funds from outside Bangladesh. The bill was passed in wake of the Holey Artisan Bakery and Café attack last year in Dhaka. Unfortunately, the restriction on funding religious activities has created a problem for many Christian NGOs who have had to shut down due to their inability to secure funding. 

08/08/2017 Bangladesh (Mission Network News) – FMI’s Bruce Allen recently reported that the Bangladeshi government has indirectly shut down 200 operating Christian NGOs since the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill, 2016 (FDRB) was passed into law October 2016.

The crackdown on NGOs comes in response to Bangladesh’s major terrorist attack last year.

At the beginning of last month, the country marked its first anniversary since the Holey Artisan Bakery and Café in Dhaka was attacked by Islamic extremists. At least 20 people were murdered in the tragedy, including foreigners.

Despite a previous increase in terrorist activity, this strike was the first major terrorist attack Bangladesh had experienced in years. Nevertheless, it was a ringing gong that awoke the country to the dangers within its borders.

And what many may not realize is that funding for terrorist activities was once able to enter Bangladesh under the disguise of foreign aid. To counter this elusive funding scheme, Bangladesh’s government has made it harder for NGOs in the country, particularly religious ones, to receive foreign aid.

Now, under the FDRB, in order for an NGO to receive foreign funds and perform activities, NGOs much register with NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB). What the FDRB essentially does is it gives the NGOAB the ability to decide which NGOs can receive funding or not.

While the NGOAB does have a list of requirements and/or violations that can either grant or cancel an NGO’s ability to register with the NGOAB, one of the most influential of these is the fact that NGOs cannot “[make] derogatory comments about the Constitution and constitutional institutions’ of Bangladesh, including the Offices of the President, the Prime Minister, the Parliament, or the Supreme Court…” according to the Library of Congress.

The ambiguous “derogatory comments” give leeway for the NGOAB to decide which NGOs’ registrations can be canceled, even without seemingly hard and incriminating evidence. However, according to FMI’s Bruce Allen, there seems to be an approval sweet-spot for certain types of religious NGOs.

“If you’re an organization, even if you’re a Christian mission agency or NGO, providing non-religious services such as a hospital or relief work [and] things like that, and your services are available to anyone in Bangladesh, then you’re able to continue to operate in Bangladesh,” Allen shares.

“So what they were really clamping down on was just overt religious activity, so things that were geared specifically for the Christian community.”

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