The storm created by Guangzhou’s “illegal organizations”

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The “Guangzhou’s Working rules on banning illegal social organizations (draft)” published last October caused an uproar in the public interest sector. In fact, even after Guangzhou eased registration for organizations (by having them just to deal with Guangzhou Bureau of Civil Affairs) in 2012, many organizations are still unregistered and therefore lack a legal status.

On 30th October, a dialogue was held between the Civil Affairs Bureau officials and NGO representatives, lawyers, academics, and media professionals to discuss the draft regulation at the Sun Yat-Sen university’s Madingtang building. Despite the bureau stating it wanted to consult all organizations, some NGOs such as prominent LGBT group PFLAG (who has been working in Guangzhou for six years and labor group Panyu Migrant Workers Center (17 years) were blocked from participating.

Even if a thin consensus was attained during the consultations, the issue of contention remained the definition of “illegal organization”. In the draft, a social organization is considered illegal if it is: i) conducting unauthorized preparatory work to carry out activities, ii) organizes activities presenting itself as a “social organization” even if it is not registered as such iii) persists in using the term “social organization” to define itself after its registration request has been refused.

After many representatives expressed their opposition to the first clause of this definition, Ying Rui, the section chief of the Propaganda and legislation department of the Guangzhou’s municipal Civil Affairs Bureau, stated that it could be deleted.

For unregistered NGOs who weren’t invited to participate in the talks, the second clause of the definition is the most problematic. Both PFLAG and the Panyu Migrant Workers Center representatives explain that even if their organizations are not registered, they have had informal contacts with government officials who repeatedly told them they could not register but “could still carry out their work”. They explain that Guangzhou used to be seen as a haven across the country and that they managed to organize events there they could not organize anywhere else. Further, even if they were not registered, their activities were de facto supervised by a myriad of government departments. They are afraid the situation will change if the working rules are not modified.

Their mood got even gloomier after another important regulation, the “Guangzhou measures on the management of social organizations” was passed into law on October 30st, since a clause stipulating that “community service organizations, (…) organizations providing services to migrant workers and other types of social organizations, which currently do not fulfill the conditions for registration, can file their application with the department in charge of managing registration” was deleted.

In Brief

The authors analyze the controversy created by Guangzhou’s new regulations on the management of social organizations and their impact on unregistered NGOs.
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