The Indian government labeled Greenpeace India “anti-national” for its campaigns against coal mining, genetically modified crops and nuclear power, and blocked its bank accounts, deported foreign workers and stopped Indian staff from overseas travel. But it is not alone in facing a crackdown by governments which see the growing affluence and influence of charities backed by social media as a threat, say experts.
Thousands of foreign-funded non-government organizations from Latin America and Africa to the Middle East and Asia have come up against authorities imposing or drafting laws which put a squeeze on their foreign donations, jeopardizing their work. Over 60 countries in the last three years (These include Russia, China, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Uganda, Israel, Ethiopia, Angola, Honduras, Venezuela and Egypt) have sought to curb the ability of non-profit groups to receive or use overseas funds, using justifications which range from labeling them as “foreign agents” to allegations of financial misconduct, says the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL).
The move comes following a surge in funding–and a shift in focus for many non-profit groups that has made governments edgy. Civil society groups received $17.7 billion from developed nations in 2013, up from $2.7 billion in 2004, according to humanitarian data researcher Development Initiatives. Alongside this, they have shifted from traditional work in basic service provision to advocacy and campaigning, mobilizing public support through Facebook and Twitter on issues ranging from corruption and conservation to religious and gender rights.
In India over the last three months, the home affairs ministry has canceled the licenses of more than 13,000 organizations, saying they have violated a law on foreign funding. Pakistan has ordered all foreign non-profits to re-register within three months and is drafting a law allowing officials to stop overseas funded charities from operating.
Big donors are not immune. The U.S.-based Ford Foundation faces a probe into funding a group run by a prominent rights activist and critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and auditors are investigating the finances of charities funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Charities welcome regulation and transparency, aware of the need to keep the booming sector in check, but say the law is being abused to the detriment of those they are trying to help–the poor and marginalized.