Monday, October 17, 2016

Draft Guidelines for the Overseas NGO Law Announced at Shanghai Forum

Last Friday, October 14, the Ministry of Public Security and the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau held a forum in Shanghai for overseas NGOs to announce the draft “Guidelines for the Registration and Temporary Activities of Representative Offices of Overseas Non-governmental Organizations within the Territory of China (for comment)."

The draft Guidelines are meant to provide more detailed information on the Management Act on Activities of Overseas Non-governmental Organizations within the Territory of the People’s Republic of China[1] (hereafter the Overseas NGO Law) which goes into effect January 1, 2017. The Guidelines are divided into four sections: 1) the procedures and documents required for registering a representative office; 2) the procedures and documents required for filing a record for temporary activities; 3) additional issues; and 4) the required forms.

According to news sources[2], the head of the Overseas NGO Management Office, Hao Yunhong, presented the Guidelines and nine overseas NGOs were invited to present their comments on the draft. (It was not made clear if the draft would be limited to comments from only a small number of overseas NGOs or if there would be a more extensive public comment period.) Mr. Hao noted that the provincial Public Security Bureaus were responsible for registration of representative offices and filing records for temporary activities. The Ministry of Public Security in Beijing would not be directly involved in registration and filing records, but instead would be responsible for providing guidance and coordination for the provincial bureaus. The Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau’s Entry/Exit Administration has already set up booths, signs and equipment to receive overseas NGOs, and other provinces and cities are said to be in the process of preparing their own service stations.

Mr. Hao also revealed that the Overseas NGO management service information system and websites were being constructed. Once completed, these online platforms can be used by overseas NGOs to make reservations for registration or filing of records, online application and submission of relevant materials, and the posting of relevant documents. In addition, the Ministry of Public Security and relevant departments have set up a coordinating mechanism for supervision and management of ONGOs, and will be responsible for studying, coordinating and resolving major problems in facilitating the supervision, administration and services to overseas NGOs carrying out activities in mainland China.

Below are a few of my takeaways from reading over the draft Guidelines:

1) There's not that much in the way of additional details in these Guidelines, but mostly a repackaging of what has already been stated in the Overseas NGO Law to make the procedures easier to understand.

2) The “registration and management” department for overseas NGOs seeking to either register a representative office, or “file a record” for temporary activities, is to be the provincial Public Security Bureau where the rep office or activities (or more specifically the Chinese partners coordinating on these activities) are located. This led several overseas NGOs at the Shanghai forum to raise the question of what they should do if they have offices and/or activities in several provinces. Do they need to register in every one of those provinces? It seems one possible solution would be to allow overseas NGOs with offices or activities in multiple provinces to register or file a record at the national-level Ministry of Public Security. But Mr. Hao already made it clear that the Ministry of Public Security would not be directly involved in registration or filing records.

3) The Guidelines use the term “business administration department” (or BAD  - who says the Chinese public security don’t have a sense of humor?) to refer to what I have called the all-important “professional supervisory unit” (PSU).  Overseas NGOs seeking to register a representative office are required to have the approval of a BAD, generally a government or quasi-government agency, before they can even begin to register. In the past, it has been very difficult for overseas NGOs to get the approval of a BAD. The Ministry of Public Security has stated it will release a list of eligible BADs, but it is unclear whether the BADs on this list will be obligated to offer their services to an overseas NGO that approaches them.

4) In the section on Overseas NGOs filing a record for temporary activities, the Guidelines state: “In the case of Overseas NGO temporary activities, the Chinese partners shall apply for review and approval according to state regulations and file the required documents 15 days prior to the temporary activity at the provincial Public Security Bureau’s Administrative Office of Overseas NGO Affairs.” But like the Overseas NGO Law, these Guidelines remain vague on just what kind of approvals and documents need to be obtained and filed by the Chinese partner.

[1] This is the name of the Overseas NGO Law given in the English-language version of the draft Guidelines that were sent to me. It’s not clear why the translators chose to use Act instead of Law which is the more standard translation.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Guangzhou labor activists are given suspended sentences

The trial of three labor activists - Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei and Tang Huanxing - is over. The verdict came the same day of the trial - September 26 - which was held in a courtroom on the outskirts of Guangzhou. Feiyang was sentenced to three years, with a suspension or reprieve of four years. If he commits an offense during those four years, then he will have to serve his prison sentence. This may very well mean he will not be able to get involved in the things he excels in during that period of time - labor organizing and collective bargaining. The same is true of Xiaomei and Huanxing who received a sentence of 1.5 years, with a suspension or reprieve of two years. The other activist still in detention, Meng Han, has yet to have his day in court. His case was sent back by local prosecutors to the police investigators for further review.

The sentences were bittersweet. They were lighter than expected, especially that of Zeng Feiyang who was the target of a high-level smear campaign conducted by state media organs soon after his arrest and not allowed to see his lawyer for six months. And the suspended sentences mean that they can now go home to be with their families. But the lighter sentences came with a cost. The plaintiffs had to admit they were guilty of "gathering a crowd to disturb social order" even though their efforts to organize workers to engage in collective bargaining had the opposite intention, which was to get workers to the bargaining table and find a peaceful, orderly way to resolve their dispute. And as already mentioned, their sentences mean they may have to abstain from the work that they excelled in, which was to organize and train workers on collective bargaining.

The politics of this case are interesting and there should be more analysis forthcoming. The impetus for the arrest of these activists appears to have come from the center, but local law enforcement were charged with carrying out the arrest, investigation and prosecution of this case. In the past, Guangzhou and Panyu law enforcement had cooperated with Feiyang on a number of occasions and knew him well. Did local law enforcement officials play a role in getting a lighter sentence for these plaintiffs and making the best of a difficult situation? Interestingly, while the media reports of the trial focused on Feiyang's closing statement in the trial concerning foreign funding and involvement, the court verdict made no mention of foreign funding and involvement. Instead, it offered a more narrow argument and set of evidence detailing how the plaintiffs were making efforts to encourage workers in the Lide factory to go on strike. In other words, it looked at the case from the perspective of social stability rather than national security in an effort to lower the sensitivity of the case and justify a lesser sentence for the plaintiffs.

Below are many of the media reports that came about soon after the sentencing was announced. 

English-language media reports

China court sentences trio for disturbing social order-

Chinese-language media reports

曾飞洋等聚众扰乱社会秩序案一审宣判 三被告认罪_财经网 - CAIJING.COM.CN                        

广东劳工NGO案今宣判 “首要分子”曾飞洋判三缓四_手机凤凰网