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Pakistan FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Pakistan

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated: 26 April 2017

Update: Beginning in late December 2016, there were signs of a crackdown on online criticism of the government. In December, in response to controversial images posted on social media against the Supreme Court’s incoming Chief Justice, the Attorney General of Pakistan wrote a letter to the Interior Ministry to take action under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act against such internet users who are “indulging in slander online.” Subsequently, at least three bloggers were arrested for posting images of the Prime Minister while labeling them as that of the Chief Justice. In early January 2017, four outspoken social media activists who expressed anti-military views were believed to be abducted by government agents. According to local partners, about a dozen social media activists in total have disappeared, and their Facebook pages (such as “Bhensa,” “Mochi,” “Bol platoon,” “Roshni,” “Taleban are oppressors,” and several others) have been blocked or controlled by someone else. In April 2017, a student at a university in Mardan was also killed by a mob for allegedly posting content on social media blaspheming Islam. Many activists are now self-censoring in fear, deleting their Facebook posts and pages. (For related information, please see “Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy” below.)  

Introduction

The not-for-profit sector in Pakistan has grown considerably in recent years in terms of both its size and its scope of work.  Today, Pakistan’s approximately 45,000 organizations employ around 300,000 persons, utilize around 200,000 full time staff, and engage in a wide set of activities ranging from service delivery to sophisticated financial services to technical advice in areas like agricultural extension, water and sanitation, and housing construction. Increasingly, civil society organizations (CSOs) are engaged in lobbying for legal and fiscal reform and take a pro-active approach in defining issues for the national agenda.  This new role is partly derived from the comparatively large volume of resources the civil society sector now commands. 

A large proportion (38%) of organizations is not registered under any law. Even those that are registered are not necessarily subject to monitoring and evaluation under the regulatory system.  To address this issue, the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy instituted a CSO certification regime for tax exemption and systems evaluation, which has been ongoing since 2003. 

There is a discernible trend in Pakistan in which the State is moving away from being the monopoly provider of social services, and is creating an enabling environment for a variety of non-state actors to deliver a wide range of social services. This is a change of paradigm in the true sense of that overused term, and has profound implications for the regulatory role of the State and the nonprofit sector both. 

Generally, the legal framework for CSOs may be divided into several categories. Some laws govern the registration, internal governance and accountability of organizations. Other laws govern how they are financed and managed. Still other laws govern the reporting relationship between the State and CSOs with respect to their operations or the manner in which they treat their employees.  Taken as a whole, the legal framework can be considered generally enabling for civil society and the activities of CSOs.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Associations, Trusts, Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies, etc. Not-for-Profit Companies
Registration Body Interior Ministry; Ministry of Social Welfare; District Governments; Provincial Social Welfare Departments and Department of Industries Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP)
Approximate Number 45,000 449
Barriers to Entry Domestic CSOs: Registration under any of the four different laws with registration offices in different provinces.

Foreign CSOs: MoU with government.

Barriers to Activities A new policy for regulation of International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs) in Pakistan was issued by the Government of Pakistan on October 1, 2015. According to the policy “There shall be proper regulation and monitoring of INGOs’ sources of funding, their accounts and tax returns. INGOs not fulfilling disclosure requirements will be proceeded against, under prescribed rules and regulations.”
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy In late 2016, the government began cracking down on online speech that criticizes the government, arresting bloggers and other activists under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2015, and potentially being involved in the abduction of three online activists.    
Barriers to International Contact No legal barriers
Barriers to Resources Domestic NGOs must register with the government before using foreign monies, services, and goods and must sign MOUs with the government stipulating, among other things, their geographical areas of work.  

Not-for-profit companies were subjected to a license validation process in 2015. In order to remain registered, among other things they had to confirm that income and profits “are applied solely towards the promotion of the objects for which the association was formed.”

INGOs receiving foreign contributions (funds, materials and services) emanating from outside Pakistan or utilizing foreign economic assistance will require prior registration exclusively with the Interior Ministry.
Barriers to Assembly Advance notification requirement; excessive government discretion to use force to disperse assemblies.

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Key Indicators

Population 201,995,540 (2016)
Capital Islamabad
Type of Government Islamic Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth 67.7 years
Literacy Rate 57.9%
Religious Groups Muslim 96.4% (Sunni 85-90%, Shia 10-15%), other (Christian and Hindu) 3.6%
Ethnic Groups Punjabi 44.68%, Pashtun (Pathan) 15.42%, Sindhi 14.1%, Sariaki 8.38%, Muhajirs 7.57%, Balochi 3.57%, other 6.28%
GDP per capita $5,000 (2015)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 147 (2015) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 23 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 22 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International: Corruption Perceptions Index 117 (2015) 1 – 175
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 5 (2017)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7 (2015)
1 – 7 (2015)
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
14 (2016) 178 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes  2010
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No  --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 2008
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention Yes 1951
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1966
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1996
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No  --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1990
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No  --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) No  --
Regional Treaties    
SAARC convention on regional arrangements for the promotion of child welfare in South Asia Yes 2005
SAARC convention on preventing and combating trafficking in women and children for prostitution Yes 2002

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

Constitutional Framework
The Constitution of Pakistan (1973) recognizes the right of individuals to associate with others to pursue common goals as an inalienable fundamental right.  Relevant constitutional provisions include:

Article 15 Freedom of movement: Every citizen shall have the right to remain in, and, subject to any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the public interest, enter and move freely throughout Pakistan and to reside and settle in any part thereof.

Article 16 Freedom of assembly: Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order.

Article 17 Freedom of association:

  1. Every citizen shall have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of [13] sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, public order or morality.
  2. Every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan, shall have the right to form or be a member of a political party, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan [14A] or public order and such law shall provide that where the Federal Government declare that any political party has been formed or is operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan [14A] or public order, the Federal Government shall, within fifteen days of such declaration, refer the matter to the Supreme Court whose decision on such reference shall be final. [14B] provided that no political party shall promote sectarian, ethnic, regional hatred or animosity, or be titled or constituted as a militant group or section.
  3. Every political party shall account for the source of its funds in accordance with law.
  4. Every political party shall, subject to law, hold intra-party elections to elect its office-bearers and party leaders.

Article 19 Freedom of speech: Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court,[15] commission of or incitement to an offence.

Article 20 Freedom of profess religion and to manage religious institutions: Subject to law, public order and morality:

  1. Every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion; and
  2. Every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.

Article 25 Equality of citizens: 1) All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. 2) There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone. 3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the protection of women and children.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Laws governing civil society organizations that either explicitly require registration or implicitly confer recognition include:

  • The Societies Registration Act 1860
  • The Religious Endowments Act 1863
  • The Trusts Act (II OF 1882)
  • The Charitable Endowments Act (Vi Of 1890)
  • The Mussalman Wakf Validating Act 1913
  • The Charitable and Religious Trusts Act 1920
  • The Mussalman Wakf Act 1923
  • The Cooperative Societies Act 1925
  • The Mussalman Validation Act 1930
  • The Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies (Registration And Control Ordinance 1961)
  • The Companies Ordinance 1984
  • The Local Government Ordinance 2001
  • Income Tax Ordinance 2001 
  • Policy for Regulation of organizations Receiving Foreign Contributions
  • National Action Plan 2015
  • Policy for regulation of International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs) in Pakistan 2015
  • Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2015

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. Foreign Contributions Act (FCA)
The final draft of the Foreign Contribution Act (FCA) was still pending parliamentary review as of the end of 2016. In July 2016, various CSOs expressed concern that the FCA would unduly restrict the foreign funding of organizations working for the public welfare and shrink the space for pro-democratic and civil society institutions in the country. If enacted, the draft FCA would supersede the 2013 policy for the regulation of organizations receiving foreign contributions, as it applies to domestic NGOs receiving foreign contributions. It is unclear how passage of the bill would impact the 2015 INGO policy. (See below in “Barriers to Resources”).   

The following is a brief overview of developments regarding the FCA in 2014 and 2015:

  • On February 19, 2014, a new version of the draft FCA was publicly released, largely reflecting the content of the policy for regulation of organizations receiving foreign contributions.  In June 2014, ICNL received an updated version of the FCA.
  • After several months of relative silence, in January 2015, the draft FCA appeared back on the government's agenda, with the purported aim of preventing terrorist financing by regulating the foreign funding of domestic NGOs and INGOs. The draft law came under discussion in a meeting held under the chairmanship of the Secretary of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human rights, and the Ministry proposed further amendments to the draft.  
  • US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson met with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on April 8, 2015 to address US concerns with the proposed regulations. Dar said that the Economic Affairs Division of the Finance Ministry was in contact with donor agencies and international NGOs and seeking their views on the draft law. He said that all efforts would be made to craft a balanced piece of legislation.   
  • In early May, it was reported that the FCA was revised again and finalized, taking into account feedback from all stakeholders, the government of Pakistan, and the US government. This new draft was not publicized.  As of late May, following immense pressure from international donor agencies, INGOs, and the civil society sector during the last few months, the draft of the FCA was removed from the National Assembly's website.
  • In June 2015, the proposed “Foreign Contribution Act 2015” was ready to be sent to the federal cabinet for approval. As of the beginning of 2017, this version continues to be the latest. It is still being deliberated among relevant ministries and has not yet been submitted to the parliament.
  • In late June 2015, the Pakistan Supreme Court ordered federal and provincial governments to provide complete details of NGOs’ funding, including sources of funding, fields in which they were spent, the mechanism for monitoring NGOs’ activities, and the process of registration. The reports submitted reportedly revealed that there is no monitoring mechanism to check the foreign funding of the 10,000 NGOs working in in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It is unclear if the review by the Supreme Court will result in further interference with NGOs’ right to privacy or resources.

The provisions of the FCA, if enacted according to the 2015 version, would: 

1. Constrain a broad array of funding and in-kind contributions.

The draft FCA regulates foreign “donation or aid, in cash or in kind” from “any foreign source.” “Foreign source” includes international agencies that may be specified by the state, foreign governments, foreign companies, all types of associations or foundations formed or registered outside of Pakistan, and foreign individuals, including Pakistan citizens living in other countries (excluding remittances to family). The foreign contribution can be received “through any mode, whether directly or indirectly” thus including sub-granted foreign funding. (Art. 2(c, d)) Furthermore, the definition of foreign contribution includes any contribution from a foreign source “for specified purposes listed in the Schedule I.” Such purposes include education, health, women, children, poverty alleviation, rural development, relief work, welfare, culture, and sport. This list excludes other areas like human rights and governance. It is unclear whether foreign funding to such areas is unregulated by the law or prohibited. (Art. 2(c) and Schedule I)  


2. Require all INGOs and certain domestic NGOs to obtain prior government permission to utilize foreign funding.
a) Domestic NGOs (defined as “persons,” a term which includes individuals, companies, and NGOs in Pakistan other than INGOs) seeking to utilize at least 1 million rupees’ worth (about $9,800) in foreign contributions per year must apply for a Certificate from the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). Such NGOs must then abide by Schedule IV, a declaration of obligations under the Certificate. (Art. 7(4)(a))

b) According to the draft, INGOs seeking to utilize foreign contributions must register with the Economic Affairs Division. (Note, however, a recent change in policy, placing NGOs under the purview of the Interior Ministry.) The application would be vetted by the Ministry of Interior, provincial and/or local governments, and “other relevant stakeholders.” The process may take up to four months. INGOs then must sign an MOU with the government as laid out in Schedule III of the Act, outlining the limits of the particular projects and programs to be undertaken. (Art. 3) 

3. Provide the state a periodic opportunity to deny or condition permission to NGOs and INGOs to receive foreign funding.

The SECP Certificate for domestic NGOs is valid for no more than five years. (Art. 7(5)) INGOs must renew the MOU at least every five years. (Art. 3(5))

4. Empower the government to arbitrarily deny or cancel permission for domestic NGOs and INGOs to receive foreign contributions.

  • Domestic NGOs are subject to vague grounds for denial of the SECP certificate. The Certificate may be granted if the SECP, after making such inquiry as it “may deem fit,” believes, inter alia, that the applicant is not likely to “engage in propagation or sedition,” or “divert [the foreign contribution] for undesirable purposes which is against the public interest….” (Art. 7(4)) The SECP may also cancel the Certificate directly on several grounds, including if it is satisfied that the NGO violated the Act, rules, or regulations made thereunder, or specified obligations (such as in Schedule IV); the NGO has not engaged in any activity in the chosen field “for the benefit of society” for two consecutive years; or it is “necessary in the public interest.” (Art. 9 (1)) If the SECP is “satisfied that it is necessary,” the SECP may also suspend the Certificate for up to thirty days. (Art. 8).  
  • According to Article 3(6) and Schedule III, the Economic Affairs Division can immediately terminate an MOU and cancel an INGO’s registration if it does not adhere to any provision of the MOU. Other grounds for terminating the MOU include not pursuing the objectives or working in the geographical areas specified in the MOU; not undertaking any “reasonable activity” within one year of signing the MOU; or the activities of the INGO are deemed “detrimental in nature or in violation of cultural and religious sentiments of the people…” (Schedule III, Clause 5) In addition, either the state or the INGO can unilaterally terminate the MOU after providing three months’ notice. (Schedule III, Clause 6.3).

5. Impose a wide range of operational restrictions on domestic NGOs and INGOs through the SECP Certificate (Schedule IV) and MOU (Schedule III), respectively.
The government may also amend these Schedules and thereby alter the requirements for NGOs seeking foreign funding, even after the law’s passage. (Art. 35)

These Schedules require Certificate-holding domestic NGOs and INGOs, inter alia, to:  

  • Specify their field and districts of activity; and their foreign sources of funding, services, and goods. Any additional funding or different sources of funding must be approved. 
  • Obtain government permission before “directly or indirectly” providing any monetary or material assistance to a local or international NGO. The NGO may also not transfer, rent out, or allow use of possessions, other than what is specified in the Schedule.
  • Refrain from “distribution of any material or pamphlet causing or likely to cause religious resentment in the area of its activities,” as well as activities which are “detrimental to national interest, sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan”; “dubious in nature”; “in violation of cultural and religious sentiments of the people”; or located outside the geographical area specified in the MOU. 

In addition to the above, Schedules III and IV place several other restrictions on INGOs and NGOs, respectively. Restrictions under Schedule III for INGOs include requiring government permission to raise funds locally or open additional offices in Pakistan, and prohibiting foreign nationals from constituting more than 10% of an INGO’s staff (Schedule III, Clauses 2.4, 3, and 4.4, respectively). Restrictions under Schedule IV for domestic NGOs include requiring written prior permission from the SECP, with the concurrence of provincial or local government, to open additional offices. (Schedule IV, Clause 1.2) Furthermore, Schedule IV provides that the NGO’s undertaking includes but is “not limited to” the requirements in the Schedule.   

6. Subject individuals to imprisonment for violations of the law’s provisions. Anyone who utilizes or assists any “person” (not applicable to INGOs) in utilizing a foreign contribution in contravention of the Act may receive up to one year of imprisonment and/or fines. (Art. 20) Punishment would apply to anyone “who at the time of commission of the offence was in charge of, and was responsible for managing the affairs of the person.”  (Art. 22)

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

The legal framework in Pakistan recognizes four primary forms of not-for-profit organizations (NPO).   

The Societies Registration Act, 1860 states that a society can be formed and registered if its purpose is to promote any one or more of the following activities: 

  • i. Science;
  • ii. Literature; 
  • iii. Fine arts;
  • iv. Instruction and the diffusion of useful knowledge;
  • v. Diffusion of political education;
  • vi. Foundation or maintenance of libraries or reading rooms for use among members or open to the public; 
  • vii. Public museums and galleries of paintings;
  • viii. Work of art;
  • ix. Collection of natural history;
  • x. Mechanical and philosophical inventions;
  • xi. Instruments or designs; and
  • xii. Educational and medical services.

public charitable trust, under the Trusts Act, 1882, unlike other trusts created for the benefit of specific individuals, is for the benefit of society generally or for certain sections of society. Charitable objectives can be classified under the following divisions: 

  • i. Advancement of religion;
  • ii. Advancement of knowledge;
  • iii. Advancement of commerce, health and safety of the public; and
  • iv. Advancement of any other object beneficial to mankind.

The Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Registration and Control Ordinance, 1961,states that a Voluntary Social Welfare Agency is an organization or undertaking established by people of their own free will for the sole objective of providing welfare services in any one or more of the following fields:

  • i. Child, youth and women’s welfare;
  • ii. Welfare of the physically and mentally challenged;
  • iii. Family planning;
  • iv. Social education;
  • v. Rehabilitation and welfare of patients;
  • vi. Welfare of juvenile delinquents;
  • vii. Rehabilitation and welfare of released prisoners;
  • viii. Welfare of socially handicapped;
  • ix. Welfare for the elderly and destitute;
  • x. Recreational programmes to ward off people from anti-social activities;
  • xi. Training in social work; and
  • xii. Coordination of social welfare agencies.

nonprofit company may seek registration under the Companies Ordinance, 1984, if it is established for furthering the development of:

  • i. Commerce;
  • ii. Art;
  • iii. Science;
  • iv. Religion;
  • v. Sports;
  • vi. Social services;
  • vii. Charity; or 
  • viii. Any other ‘Useful’ objective.

Public Benefit Status

Depending on the organizational form, NPOs are free to pursue both member benefit purposes and public benefit purposes. 

Tax exemptions and certain other fiscal benefits are available to certain NPOs, depending on their purposes and activities. Generally, in order to qualify for tax exempt status, the NPO must confer and be seen to confer benefits to society as a whole and not to any particular segment of society. 

Barriers to Entry

Domestic NGOs may register under any of the four different laws with registration offices in different provinces to operate in Pakistan.  

As of November 2015, in Kyber Pakhtukhwa (KP), the Human Rights Directorate of the Government of Khyber Pakhtukhwa is requiring all NGOs working on human rights issues to register with the Human Rights Directorate, or action will be taken against them. The KP Government is imposing this requirement based on Article 7 of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Promotion, Protection and Enforcement of Human Rights Act, 2014. The Human Rights Directorate is defining a registration mechanism, which CSOs in KP are concerned will be onerous and expensive. The Human Rights Directorate has recently been formed, and it is now establishing the Advisory Committee and discussing registration fees and reporting requirements.

As per a new 2015 Policy for regulation of International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs) in Pakistan (see also Document Checklist and MoU between Pakistan and [NGO]), INGOs must reapply for registration through a new online registration form and obtain an MOU with the government. Approved INGOs will be registered for specific field(s) of work and specified location(s) or areas of operation, after consultation with the relevant federal and provincial authorities, and in line with the needs and national priorities of Pakistan. While the responsibility for monitoring and security clearance of NGOs was previously with the Economic Affairs Division, according to the new INGO policy, this responsibility has been shifted to the Interior Ministry.

Barriers to Operational Activity

All domestic and foreign NGOs are now required to register or re-register with the government. According to the new INGO policy, INGOs will be registered for specific field(s) of work and specified location(s) or areas of operation, after consultation with the relevant Federal and Provincial authorities, and in line with their needs and national priorities of Pakistan.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are no legal barriers specifically restricting the expressive activities of NPOs. However, a number of government measures have suppressed individual criticism of the government.

In August 2016, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2015 was passed by the Senate and assented to by the President, and in April 2017 the courts for hearing cases under PECA were established. Various NGOs expressed concern that their recommendations to bring the Act into a human rights framework were ignored by the government and legislatives bodies and that, through this Act, the government can force Internet companies to remove or block access to any “speech, sound, data, writing, image, or video” without court approval. NGOs are also concerned that the government will acquire legal powers to censor and track Internet users, criminalize computer security researchers and hand over personal data to foreign powers.

According to ICNL’s analysis of the Act, specific concerns include:

  • Data Retention and Intermediary Liability – the PECA requires any internet provider, which includes anyone that provides a premise or facility for the public to access the internet, to store internet data for at least 1 year and produce it when ordered by authorities, regardless of whether such production is lawful;
  • Duplicative Crimes – the PECA recriminalizes actions already criminalized in Pakistan’s Penal code, which may result in similar conduct being treated differently and inconsistently;
  • Vague Language Affecting the Freedom of Expression – the PECA contains vague language that may invite arbitrary and subjective application, resulting in violations of the freedom of expression and Pakistan’s obligations under the ICCPR;
  • Vague Language Affecting the Right to Privacy – the PECA contains vague language that may invite arbitrary and subjective application, resulting in violations to the right to privacy and Pakistan’s obligations under the ICCPR; and
  • Expansive Investigatory Powers – the PECA creates a new investigatory agency and provides that agency with expansive, over-reaching surveillance powers with little, if any, meaningful judicial oversight, which will likely curtail the exercise of the freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

Beginning in late December 2016, there were signs of a crackdown on online criticism of the government. In December, in response to controversial images posted on social media against the Supreme Court’s incoming Chief Justice, the Attorney General of Pakistan wrote a letter to the Interior Ministry to take action under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act against such internet users who are “indulging in slander online.” Subsequently, at least three bloggers were arrested for posting images of the Prime Minister while labeling them as that of the Chief Justice. In early January 2017, four outspoken social media activists who expressed anti-military views were believed to be abducted by government agents. According to local partners, about a dozen social media activists in total have disappeared, and their Facebook pages (such as “Bhensa,” “Mochi,” “Bol platoon,” “Roshni,” “Taleban are oppressors,” and several others) have been blocked or controlled by someone else. In April 2017, a student at a university in Mardan was also killed by a mob for allegedly posting content on social media blaspheming Islam. Many activists are now self-censoring in fear, deleting their Facebook posts and pages.

Anti-blasphemy laws have been used with wide discretion to pressure the country's Christian minority. In addition, NPOs dedicated to issues of female education and empowerment have faced threats, attacks, and a number of murders by Islamic extremists, particularly in the north.  While this is not a legal barrier per se, there is a role for the State in protecting citizens from such criminal attacks.  Moreover, this underscores the point that there are cultural barriers which constrain the work of some NPOs in some parts of Pakistan.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers to international communication and contacts.

Barriers to Resources

The following is a list of barriers to resources in Pakistan.
1. International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) Policy, 2015
In October 2015, the Interior Minister announced the Policy for regulation of International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs) in Pakistan. Per the policy, all INGOs working in Pakistan have been advised to apply online for registration with the Interior Ministry or else cease operating. According to the new policy, applications will be processed within 60 working days, but as of January 2016 many INGOs reported not receiving a timely response from the Interior Ministry. The deadline for INGOs to be registered was February 1, 2016. INGOs must sign an MOU with the government, which will stipulate, among other things, the work and geographical area of the organization. In addition, the policy requires INGOs to maintain full disclosure of their activities, their respective areas of work, their sources of funding, and how they utilize their funds, and the government is permitted to demand any information from organizations at any time.
According to ICNL’s analysis of the Policy, key restrictions include:

  • An onerous and unclear registration process with no safeguards against arbitrary denial of registration of INGOs.
  • Prior government permission required to: (a) access foreign funds; (b) provide direct or indirect assistance to other NGOs; and (c) dispose of assets.
  • A thirty percent cap on administrative expenses.
  • Prior government permission required to hire foreign nationals, and foreign nationals may constitute only 10 percent of an INGO’s staff.
  • Broad and inappropriate bans on political activity and activities inconsistent with government interests or policy.
  • Restriction on INGOs from working in locations not previously authorized.
  • Government’s unlimited right to information and onerous reporting requirements.
  • Broad and inappropriate grounds for cancellation of registration.
  • No right to judicial appeal of adverse decisions and actions taken by the government. 

INGOs have reported that the registration process is not only onerous, but includes numerous additional hurdles that are not outlined in the new INGO policy. Agencies have demanded additional documentation, in some cases full financial documents going back 5 or 10 years. One additional requirement reportedly demands fees of several thousands of US dollars. Additionally, local staff reportedly have been harassed and/or received phone calls at their homes from security services.  

2. Policy for Regulation of Organizations Receiving Foreign Contributions, 2013
In November 2013, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) approved a Policy for Regulation of Organizations Receiving Foreign Contributions. Under the policy, domestic and foreign organizations in Pakistan must register with the Economic Affairs Division before using foreign monies, services, and goods. In addition, domestic and foreign NGOs must sign a Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the government, which will stipulate, among other things, the work and geographical area of the organization. The policy was deemed to remain in effect until the Foreign Contributions Act is finalized. Until 2016, several CSOs reported that the policy was sparsely implemented, if at all. Furthermore, news reports from June 2015 indicated that the monitoring and security clearance of foreign NGOs shifted from the Economic Affairs Division to the Interior Ministry.

However, in August 2016, the Economic Affairs Division of Pakistan issued a notification announcing the composition and terms of reference for the NGO Consultative Committee mandated to “[s]crutinize registration applications and documents received from Local NGOs receiving or desirous of receiving foreign contributions, in light of the ‘Policy for regulation of Organizations receiving Foreign Contributions, 2013’, other related rules and regulations.” The notification appears to indicate that this policy from 2013 remains in effect. The notification also specifies that applications would be reviewed within a period of four months, and the MOU between the NGO and the government would last up to two years. 

3. Circular No. 02/2015 
On January 1, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) issued Circular No. 02/2015, stating that, pursuant to the National Action Plan on Counterterrorism, it will submit all not-for-profit companies registered under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance to a license re-validation/renewal process to ensure they are not engaged in terrorist financing. Moreover, the process would involve review for compliance with the Companies Ordinance of 1984, including confirming that income and profits “are applied solely towards the promotion of the objects for which the association was formed,” and not used directly or indirectly for other purposes. 

In April 2015, the SECP revoked the license of 108 “defaulter” not-for-profit companies registered with the SECP under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance 1984.  According to its press release, the SECP had identified 136 “defaulter companies who had neither filed any accounts, nor applied for renewal of License during the last 05 years,” and the SECP provided them notice and an opportunity to be heard. Following “detailed scrutiny of each case,” the SECP decided to revoke the licenses of 108 companies, “while the remaining shall be dealt-with shortly.”

Barriers to Assembly

Article 16 of the Constitution of Pakistan protects the freedom of assembly: “Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order.”

The Pakistan Penal Code 1860, Police Order 2002, Criminal Procedure Code 1898, and West Pakistan Ordinance xxxi of 1960 (i.e., the Maintenance of Public Order 1960) address various aspects of the organization and conduct of an assembly.

Advance Permission
Formal written permission from the Head of District Police or Assistant or Deputy Superintendent of Police is required in advance of any assembly. As a result, spontaneous assemblies are not permitted legally, although sometimes they happen in practice without police intervention. The Head of District Police or Assistant or Deputy Superintendent of Police may refuse to give the permit, if s/he determines that the assembly is likely to cause a breach of the peace. (Pakistani Penal Code, Section 120)

The permit or license provided by the Head of District Police or Assistant or Deputy Superintendent of Police may specify the names of the licensed organizers and the conditions on which the assembly may take place. (Section 120) S/he may also stop any procession which violates the conditions of a license and may order any assembly which violates any such conditions to disperse. (Section 121) Any procession or assembly which does not follow the conditions of the license shall be deemed to be an unlawful assembly. (Section 121)

Criminal Penalties
When force or violence is used in an unlawful assembly, every member of the assembly is guilty of the offence of rioting. (Section 146) In addition, anyone who joins or continues in an unlawful assembly, knowing that such unlawful assembly has been commanded to disperse, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with a fine or both. (Section 145)

Enforcement
Section 128 and Section 131 of the Criminal Procedure Code (1898) invite the exercise of excessive government discretion in the use of civil and even military force to disperse an unlawful assembly. If upon being commanded to disperse, an assembly does not disperse, any [Executive Magistrate] or officer in charge of a police station, may proceed to disperse the assembly by force, and may require the assistance of any male person, not being an officer, soldier, sailor or airman in the armed forces of Pakistan for the purpose of dispersing the assembly, and, if necessary, arresting and confining the people who form the assembly so that they may be punished.

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Pakistan
National Report
Compilation of UN information
Summary of stakeholders' information
Report of the Working Group
Decision on the Outcome
Draft Report on the eighth session of the Human Rights Council
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs

Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, 2009

U.S. State Department 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Pakistan
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports, 2009
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
IMF Country Reports Pakistan and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library

Pakistan

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Remove blasphemous material from social media in four months (April 2017)
Lahore High Court (LHC) has ordered the information ministry to remove blasphemous content from social media in the next four months. Justice Athar Mahmood heard the case during which the petitioner told the court that profane material has not been deleted from social media despite court's directives. The Lahore High Court directed the authorities including home and information ministries to submit report and erase the material within four months.

Mardan university student lynched by mob over alleged blasphemy: police (April 2017)
A 23-year-old student of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan was killed and another seriously injured by a vigilante mob for allegedly "publishing blasphemous content online", local police said Thursday. The incident occurred within the university premises. The campus was shut down following the incident until further notice and its hostels vacated to avoid a further escalation of violence. At least 45 people had been arrested in connection with the incident, according to Mardan District Police Officer Dr Mian Saeed.

Disappearances spark fears of crackdown on leftwing dissent in Pakistan (January 2017)
In early January 2017, four outspoken social media activists that expressed anti-military views were believed to be abducted by government agents. These disappearances have sparked fear in social media activists, leading many to shut down their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Bloggers Arrested in Pakistan for Posting Fake Images Online(January 2017)
At least three bloggers were arrested for posting images of the Prime Minister while labeling them as that of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Interior Minister Takes Notice of Social Media Campaign Against Chief Justice of Pakistan (December 2016)
In response to controversial images posted on social media against the Supreme Court’s incoming Chief Justice, the Attorney General of Pakistan wrote a letter to the Interior Ministry to take action under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act against such internet users who are “indulging in slander online.”

President enacts Companies Ordinance 2016 (November 2016)
On November 11, the president of Pakistan promulgated the Companies Ordinance, 2016, in order to replace the Companies Ordinance, 1984.

ISI to take action against cybercrimes breaching national security (October 2016)
The government has accepted a proposal by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to let its operatives take pre-emptive action against individuals and organizations breaching national security under the recently-enacted cybercrime law. The rules being formed under the new law will empower many agencies, including the ISI, to crack down on individuals “misusing” the internet, including social media. However, it is unclear how national security will be defined and whether the term will be used in violation of the freedom of expression.

'Cybercrime bill to suppress freedom of expression' (August 2016)
The activists of various NGOs have expressed concern about the passage of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, commonly known as the Cybercrime Bill, by the National Assembly and said the legislation would suppress freedom of expression. The bill was passed by the Senate in July after introduction of 50 minor amendments. Now, it will be sent to the president for approval, which is necessary for its enforcement. In a joint statement, the CSOs on Thursday said their recommendations to bring the draft of the bill in the human right frame work was ignored by the government and legislatives bodies at all stages.

SECP registered 2,747 companies in first half (January 2016)
The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), during the first half of current fiscal year (2015-16), registered 2,747 new companies, indicating a growth of 25% compared to the corresponding period last year. Three percent of the companies secured registration as public unlisted, not-for-profit, trade organizations, or foreign companies.

National Action Plan (NAP) is agenda of Pakistan’s integrity, security: Nisar (December 2015)
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan Wednesday said that the NAP against terrorism was the agenda of Pakistan’s integrity and security and there should be no politics over it. The Minister said INGOs were being brought under the ambit of law and their work was being made transparent. He said in the first two months, the process of registration of INGOs would be completed afresh. So far 127 INGOs had applied for online registration. Only registered INGOs would be allowed to work in Pakistan. It was the first time that 61 proscribed organizations had been put on record, adding that these organizations had also been banned from Pakistani media.

Nine INGOs refused registration (November 2015)
Pakistan has rejected applications from several international aid groups, including Save the Children, for continuing work in the country under a new policy revised two years ago. Nine international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), mostly from the US and UK, have been refused registration under the guidelines announced in November 2013.

NGOs asked to obtain NOCs before continuing relief work (November 2015)
A ban has been imposed on NGOs and international aid organisations working without No Objection Certificates (NOC) in Shangla following a devastating earthquake.  

New policy invites frosty response from NGOs(October 2015)
The government has received a lukewarm response from local and international aid groups over the adoption of a new policy to regulate their operations in the country. Only 170 international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have so far bothered to complete their online registration.

Pakistan: Withdraw Repressive New NGO Rules (October 2015)
The Pakistani government should immediately withdraw new regulations that will severely restrict operations by international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The “Policy for Regulation of INGOs in Pakistan,” announced on October 1, 2015, will worsen the already deteriorating working climate for international humanitarian and human rights groups.

Pakistan announces policy for foreign NGOs (October 2015)
Federal government has announced a policy for International Non-government Organizations (INGOs), envisaging on-line registration and signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) specifying domain and areas for working of these organizations.

INGOs Body endorses new online registration form, draft MoU (July 2015)
The high-level committee set up by the Prime Minister to review laws and regulations regarding accreditation and activities of International Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs) has endorsed the new electronic/online registration form and the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for INGOs.

INGOs will not be allowed to get registered separately as companies (June 2015)
The government has decided not to allow International Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs) to get registered separately with Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), as companies and INGOs' sources of funding, their accounts and income tax returns would be properly regulated and monitored under new INGO policy.

Foreign Contributions Act 2015: Govt CannotAaccount for 65% of Funding of NGOs (June 2015)
The government cannot account for 65% of foreign funding for nongovernmental organisations in the country, including foreign NGOs and madrassas, largely owing to the lack of a legislative and regulatory structure to govern such organisations, said Economic Affairs Secretary Salim Sethi.

Save the Children Islamabad Office Reopened (June 2015)
The international aid organisation ‘Save the Children’ Islamabad Office has been reopened on Wednesday after the interior ministry conditionally allowed it to work for six months.
The sources in the interior ministry said that 13 out 73 offices of ‘Save the Children’ have been allowed to operate in the country except the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and other sensitive areas.

Supreme Court asks Government to Provide NGO Source Funding Details (June 2015)
The Pakistan Supreme Court has asked the federal and provincial governments to provide complete details of non-government organisations' (NGOs) source of funding. According to the Dawn, the three-judge bench headed by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja asked the governments to give complete details of the source of funding of the NGOs, the sectors where they spent money, mechanism to monitor their activities and the process of their registration.

Interior Ministry to Register INGOs (June 2015)
The Minister for Interior, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has said that in future the Ministry of Interior will register International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) as previously it was done by the Economic Affairs Division (EAD).

Government bans non-governmental organisation in FATA and Gilgit-Baltistan(June 2015)
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan banned all non-governmental organisations in Fata, Gilgit-Baltistan and other declared security zones.

Pakistan allows global NGOs for 6 months; re-registration must (June 2015)
Pakistan today allowed international aid agencies to function in the country for six months but made it mandatory for them to re-register within three months as part of the crackdown that led to the sealing of the offices of 'Save the Children'. 

Canada wants Pakistan to address NGOs’ concerns: (April 2015)
Canada is the second country after United States, which asked to address the concerns of stakeholders over the proposed legislation to regulate foreign funding of non-governmental organisations under Pakistan’s National Action Plan to counter terrorism.

US concerned over law regulating foreign-funded NGOs (April 2015)
As Pakistan moves to regulate foreign funding of non-governmental organisations under its National Action Plan to counter terrorism, Islamabad has run into concerns from an unexpected source: the United States. US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson met with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday to address some of Washington’s concerns with the proposed new regulations.

Government revokes licenses of 108 NGOs (April 2015)
The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) has revoked the licences of 108 non-government organisations (Section 42 not-for-profit companies) working in Pakistan, as they failed to comply with the governments directions to renew their licences under the National Action Plan (NAP) for Counterterrorism.

Law to monitor INGOs finances (January 2015)
In order to implement the National Action Plan (NAP) for rooting out terrorism, the government is all set to submit the much-awaited draft of the Foreign Contribution Act 2015 before the Cabinet, proposing to bind International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) having an annual portfolio of $5 million to register, declare details of all foreign funding sources and to put in place effective monitoring mechanisms.

Forum condemns harassment of civil society (December 2014)
The Pakistan Civil Society Forum (PCSF) condemned the harassment of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by police in the name of assuring security. In a statement, Muhammad Tahseen, the PCSF secretary general, claimed that police were intimidating NGO workers. "Police have started visiting offices of NGOs in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and interrogating workers about their programmes, activities and funding sources," he said.

Civil Society Protests Against Cleric Who Does Not Condemn School Attack (December 2014)
Islamabad police halted a protest organized by Pakistan's civil society against the pro-Taliban statements of the head cleric of Lal Masjid, allegedly because it 'went beyond limits.' "I was shocked to see police so biased toward Lal Masjid when we tried to protest against the chief cleric of Lal Masjid for not condemning the Taliban [school] siege in Peshawar," said one of the dozens participating in the protest.

Draft law being prepared to subvert cyber-crimes (November 2014)
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said a draft law is being prepared to subvert cyber-crimes and terrorist financing, according to a report published by Radio Pakistan. He made this statement while addressing the International Branchless Banking Conference. According to Dar, the draft will be presented in Parliament for legislation. He also said the use of digital financial channels such as electronic and mobile banking reduces the chances of fraud and theft.

News Archive


NGOs of Khyber Pakhtunwa, FATA concerned over bill to regulate funding (May 2014)

Continued human rights violations in Pakistan (May 2014)

Foreign-funded NGOs: registration process revised (May 2014)

NGOs decry proposed bill meant to regulate foreign contributions (May 2014)

Govt suspends MoUs signed with foreign-funded organisations (April 2014)

National New draft law for NGOs drops "a cat among pigeons" (April 2014)

Not "Saving the Children" (April 2014)

Pakistani NGOs Fear New Year of Constraints
(December 2013)

Government policy on foreign-funded NGOs approved by ECC (December 2013)

Women in civil society (May 2013)

Security needed for rights activists in KP, Fata (February 2013)

Ten Pakistani journalists killed in 2012 (February 2013)

"Unauthorized" operations of NGOs in Pakistan (December 2012)

Pakistan Foreign Minister Downplays Human Rights Violations (November 2012)

CIVICUS calls on Pakistan to implement UPR recommendations (November 2012)

Human Rights Council elections: Pander time (November 2012)

CIVICUS Letter to the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan (November 2012)

Pakistan Foreign Minister touts human rights record at UN (October 2012)

Countering violent narratives through cooperation with Pakistani civil society(October 2012)

Need to redefine and restructure civil society framework(October 2012)

Civil society disappointed on state of human rights (October 2012)

Freedom of expression is good, but misuse a crime (September 2012)

Foreign NGO workers face expulsion (September 2012)

NGOs call for end to threats against civil society activists (September 2012)

Activities of international NGOs to be strictly regulated (August 2012)

Another national organization goes down the drain (August 2012)

Pakistan increasingly dangerous for CSO work (July 2012)

Pakistan Government must protect civil society before it's too late (July 2012)

Laws pertaining to Access to Information not enforced in Pakistan (July 2012)

NGOs in northern Pakistan suspend work after clerics' fatwa declaring activities 'haram' (July 2012)

Concern over attacks on aid workers (May 2012)

Pakistani Prime Minister praises NGOs at conference on the “Role of international NGOs in relief and development in Pakistan” (April 2012)

Pakistani CSOs urge the Maldives not to follow Pakistan's example after political crisis (April 2012)

NGO goes to court seeking witness protection laws (February 2012)

Role of civil society in budget process (January 2012)

Pakistanis' distrust of foreigners impedes aid groups (January 2012)

PPP, civil society hold pro-democracy demonstrations (January 2012)

HRCP presents bleak picture of human rights in 2010-2011 (December 2011)

Corporate sector must strengthen institutional mechanism (December 2011)

Challenges to Pakistan’s democracy (September 2011) 

Eight Pakistanis working for US NGO kidnapped (July 2011) 

Civil society meeting: Commissioner’s threat to NGOs criticized (July 2011)

Disbursement through NGOs: Pakistan seeks details of US aid (May 2011) 

Incentive package: EU links trade concessions to human rights record (May 2011) 

A paradox retarding Pakistan’s democracy? (April 2011) 

Mukhtar Mai verdict will have ‘negative impact’ on Pakistan’s civil society (April 2011)

NGOs criticise govt’s flood relief efforts (December 2010)

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The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL Civic Freedom Monitor partner in Pakistan, the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy.