Last updated: 21 March 2024


Bangladesh is endowed with a rich tradition and culture of philanthropy. The civic tradition was reinforced following the devastating war for liberation in 1971, when a host of “self-help groups” emerged to provide relief and rehabilitation, and to support development.  At the same time, however, given the legacy of colonial and authoritarian military administration, civil society remains subject to challenges in the operating environment.

Today in Bangladesh, mainstream civil society organizations (CSOs) are mostly philanthropic groups, citizen coalitions, and private voluntary agencies. Many CSOs seek to meet the needs of under-served or neglected populations, to expand the freedom of or to empower people, to engage in advocacy for social change, and to provide services. The exact number of CSOs in Bangladesh is unknown.  According to one estimate, the number of CSOs registered with various governmental authorities totals 250,000.  Among these, it is estimated that less than 50,000 organizations are active.

Bangladesh has a unitary government with a Westminster-style parliamentary system, governed by a Constitution that is the supreme law of the Republic

Organizational Forms Registration Body Barriers to Entry Barriers to Activities Barriers to Resources Barriers to Assembly
Societies Registrar of Joint stock Companies (RJSC), under The Societies Registration Act, 1860 Foreigners, non-citizens, and minors are prohibited from serving as founding members. Mandatory submission of an annual return. A society seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB. Advance permission required; prohibitions on “political” meetings.
Trusts Relevant Sub-Register’s office, under The Trust Act 1882  

Minors are prohibited from serving as founders.

Trusts cannot pursue purposes deemed by a court to be immoral or opposed to public policy. A trust seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB. Advance permission required; prohibitions on “political” meetings.
Non-profit companies Registrar of Joint stock Companies (RJSC), under section 28 of the Companies Act, 1994  

Advance permission from the government is required.

Conditions and restrictions can be imposed by the government.

Minors are prohibited from serving as founders.

No significant barriers. Borrowing from foreign sources may require prior approval of Bangladesh Bank or BIDA. Advance permission required; prohibitions on “political” meetings.
NGOs NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) under the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulations Act, 2016 (FDRA) Foreigners, non-citizens, and minors are prohibited from serving as founders.

Bureaucratic hurdles delay the registration process.

NGOs are subject to termination for the non-submission of reports.

Government representatives may attend internal NGO meetings.

An NGO seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB.  

Advance permission required; prohibitions on “political” meetings.

Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Department of Social Services (DSS) within the Ministry of Social Welfare

Department of Women Affairs (DWA) within the Ministry of Women and Children

Foreigners, non-citizens, and minors are prohibited from serving as founders.

Name clearance process, as well as other bureaucratic delays.


Government representatives may attend internal CSO meetings.

Any CSO registered under this Act seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB.  

Advance permission required; prohibitions on “political” meetings

Cooperative Societies Department of Cooperatives (DoC) under the Cooperative Societies Act, 2001 Foreigners, non-citizens, and minors are prohibited from serving as founders or members. Government representatives may attend the internal meetings of cooperative societies. A Cooperative Society seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB. Advance permission required; prohibitions on “political” meetings.
Youth Organizations Department of Youth Development (DYD) under the Youth Organizations (Registration and Management) Act, 2015 Foreigners, non-citizens, and minors are prohibited from serving as founding members. All activities should be related to youth development as per Youth Policy 2017.

“Youth” should be included in the name of the organization.


Youth organizations must submit annual reports & audited accounts to DYD.

Government representatives may attend internal meetings.

A youth organization seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB. Advance permission required; prohibitions on “political” meetings.
Micro Finance Institutions (MFI) The Microcredit Regulatory Authority (MRA), under the Microcredit Regulatory Authority Act 2006 (MRA 2006)  

An MFI must be already registered as a society, trust, cooperative society, voluntary social welfare agency, or company.

Foreigners, non-citizens, and minors are prohibited from serving as founding members.


Every MFI must have a reserve fund and no amount can be spent from that reserved fund without prior approval of MRA.

No MFI can offer any dividend without prior approval of the MRA.

An MFI seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB. Advance permission requirement with no appeal in case of rejection; arbitrary prohibitions on “political” meetings.
Waqf The Office of the Waqf Administrator (OWA), under the Waqf Ordinance 1962, under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The administrators must be adult Muslims and public officers under the Code of Civil Procedures.

Non-Muslims and minors cannot be committee members.

As per Islamic Law, a waqf should be focused only on a religious, educational, or charitable causes inspired by Quranic verses and Prophet Muhammad’s words. A waqf seeking to receive or use foreign funds must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB. Advance permission requirement with no appeal in case of rejection; arbitrary prohibitions on “political” meetings.
Population 167,184,465 (2023 est.)
Capital Dhaka
Type of Government Parliamentary republic
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: 67.9 years
Female: 71.7 years (2016 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 64.6%
Female: 58.5% (2016) (UNESCO Institute for Statistics)
Religious Groups Muslim 89.8%, Hindu 9.1%, others 0.11% (Source: Pew Research Center)
Ethnic Groups Bengali 98%, other 1.1% (Bangladesh is a country of cultural and ethnic diversity, with over 54 Indigenous Peoples speaking at least 35 languages, along with the majority Bengali population. According to the 2022 census, the country’s Indigenous population is approximately 1,650,159 people, or 1% of the total population. Indigenous Peoples in the country, however, claim that their population stands at some 5,000,000)
GDP Per Capita $5,900 (2021 est.)

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

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 129 (2021) 1 – 182
World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 127 (2022) 1 – 138
Transparency International 147 (2022) 1 – 180
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 41 (2023) 1 179
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Partly Free
Political Rights Score: 15
Civil Liberties Score: 25 (2023)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 40
1 – 60

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 2000
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1998
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1979
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1984
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (OP-CEDAW) Yes 2000
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) Yes 2011
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2007
Key Regional Agreements Ratification* Year
South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Yes 1985
South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) Yes 1994

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

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of Bangladesh was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh on November 4, 1972.  Relevant clauses corresponding to fundamental rights enunciated in the Constitution include:

  • 37. Freedom of assembly: Every citizen shall have the right to assemble and to participate in public meetings and processions peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of public order health.
  • 38. Freedom of association: Every citizen shall have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of morality or public order.
  • 39. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech: (i) Freedom of thought and conscience is guaranteed. (ii) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence (a) the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the press, are guaranteed.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Two broad categories of legislation – laws of incorporation and regulatory laws – make up the legal environment within which civil society organizations (CSOs) operate in Bangladesh.

Laws of incorporation, enabling organizations to function with a management structure and legal status, include the following:

  • The Societies Registration Act, 1860;
  • The Trust Act, 1882;
  • The Companies Act, 1913 (amended in 1994);
  • Cooperative Societies Act, 2001; and
  • The Waqf Ordinance, 1962

Regulatory laws have been introduced to encourage CSOs to register with government agencies irrespective of their legal status.  A CSO that is denied registration under these regulatory laws remains a CSO, if it is duly incorporated under any of the previously mentioned Acts.  Relevant “regulatory laws” include the following:

  • Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, 2016; and
  • The Microfinance Regulatory Law, 2006.

A brief description of each law follows below.

Societies Registration Act, 1860
During British rule, CSOs were regulated as “literary, scientific and charitable societies” through the Societies Registration Act. The Act provides for registration with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies under the Ministry of Commerce for the following types of societies:

  • charitable societies;
  • societies established for the promotion of science, literature or the fine arts;
  • societies established for instruction, the diffusion of knowledge and political education;
  • societies established for educational and medical services;
  • societies established for the foundation or maintenance of libraries or reading rooms for use by members of the public; and
  • public museums and galleries of paintings and other works of art, and collections of natural history, mechanical and philosophical inventions.

The Trust Act, 1882
This Act was designed to accommodate private trusts without affecting the already existing Muslim and Hindu laws for religious endowments. A trust (trust deed) is registered by the relevant (geographically) Sub-Register’s office under the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, which is responsible for the registration of property and collecting the registration tax. It is also responsible for the registration of marriage in Bangladesh.

The Companies Act, 1913 (amended in 1994)
This Act provides legal status to non-profit companies. Some CSOs and foundations seek registration under the Act for the sake of convenience. The Registrar of Joint Stock Companies under the Ministry of Commerce is the registration authority.

Under section 28 of The Companies Act, 1994, a “non-profit association” or club may also be registered.

Cooperative Societies Act, 2001
This Act provides legal status to three kinds of Cooperative Societies, i.e., Primary Cooperative Society, Central Cooperative Society and National Cooperative Society through the Department of Cooperatives (DoC).

Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance, 1961
The majority of CSOs in Bangladesh are recognized as voluntary social welfare organizations (SWOs) and are registered under this Act with the Department of Social Services (DSS) as well as with the Department of Women Affairs (DWA).

The Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies (Registration and Control) Ordinance was promulgated in 1961 “to expedite the registration and control of voluntary social welfare agencies and for matters ancillary thereto.” A “voluntary social welfare agency” is defined as an “organization, association or undertaking established by persons of their own free will for the purpose of rendering welfare services in any one or more of the fields mentioned in the schedule and depending for its resources on public subscriptions, donations or government aid.” The Director of the DSS under the Ministry of Social Welfare is the registration authority.

Any organization that is willing to work for women’s and children’s welfare can register under this Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance, 1961. Its organizational structure is also similar to that of the DSS, but it remains under the DWA, which is under the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.

Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, 2016
This law regulates the receipt and expenditure of foreign donations by CSOs. CSOs are required to submit certain information to the government in a prescribed form to obtain approval for undertaking projects with donations received from outside of the country. Prior approval is also required if a CSO wishes to use the services of a volunteer or staff from outside the country.

The Youth Organizations (Registration and Management) Act, 2015
The National Youth Policy 2017 of Bangladesh defines youth as individuals aged 18-35 years and any youth-led CSO, whose activities are related to youth development as per Youth Policy 2017 can get registered with the Department of Youth Development (DYD) under this law.

Microfinance Regulatory Law, 2006
CSOs involved in micro-credit operations are to be registered with the Microfinance Regulatory Authority (MRA) under this law.

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

In 2019, the Ministry of Social Welfare took the initiative to replace the Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance, 1961 (VSWO) with the proposed new “Voluntary Social Welfare Organizations (Registration and Control) Act, 2019”. The draft VSWO Act, 2019, if enacted, would impose severe constraints on civil society in Bangladesh. However, local CSOs and international organizations worked together to express grave concerns over the draft Act by issuing statements in the media and to the Social Welfare Minister. Likewise, a group of CSOs submitted a comparison of the “Voluntary Social welfare organizations registration and control Act, 2019” (SWA-2019) to the Ministry of Social Welfare in early 2020. The submission includes demands for repealing inconsistent and unclear sections of the SWA-2019, which contradict the NGO Affair Bureau’s authority, have the potential to limit CSO operations, and create unnecessary burdens for CSOs.

In December 2022, the Ministry of Social Welfare published and uploaded the newly drafted “Voluntary Social welfare organizations registration and control Act, 2022” (SWA-2022) onto the Ministry’s website for departmental review and comments.

Most of the key concerns as well as suggested corrections made by the group of CSOs for SWA-2019 were incorporated within this proposed SWA-2022. Significant modifications were:

  • The proposed SWA-2022 confirms registration process of other organizations registered under different laws, but it is not mandatory. In contrast, the SWA-19 superseded other registration laws, including the Foreign Donation Regulatory Act.
  • The SWA-2022 clarified that existing SWOs will be considered as registered under the SWA-2022, which means they do not need to re-register. In contrast, the previous draft required all existing SWOs to get registered under SWA-2019.
  • There is no limitation on working areas or districts under the SWA-2022, which also outlined processes to expand geographic locations. In contrast, the previous SWA-2019 limited SWOs’ work initially to only one district, which could then expand only to five districts at a time.
  • The SWA-2022 extended registration validity to five years. In contrast, under the SWA-2019, it was ten years.

However, there are still concerns regarding the “Name Clearance” process, including cancelling or ordering the partial name change of SWOs by the registration authority; the approval of SWOs’ constitutions and executive committees; and the impunity used to prevent case filings against the registration authority for its not “acting in good faith”.

Organizational Forms

Civil society organizations (CSOs) in Bangladesh may be either membership organizations or non-membership organizations. Membership organizations include indigenous and community-based organizations (CBOs), such as village-level clubs, mass organizations, religious organizations, and trade organizations. Many of these organizations are not registered. Registered membership organizations are generally registered under the Co-operative Societies Act. Non-membership organizations may be organized as a trust or as a non-profit company.

All CSOs can be grouped into three categories corresponding to regulatory laws, source of funds, and sphere of activities.

  • (a) The overwhelming majority of CSOs are recognized as voluntary social welfare organizations (VSWO). Typically, VSWOs are small and operate locally with funds mobilized from local donations and government grants. Activities are primarily implemented by local volunteers. As of December 2009, 56,966 VSWOs were registered with the Department of Social Services.
  • (b) Organizations that operate with grants from external sources are generally perceived as “development NGO(s)” and are registered with the NGO Affairs Bureau. Of the 2,535 organizations that were registered as of June 2010, 2,305 CSOs are of local origin and 230 are foreign/international organizations operating with an office in Bangladesh. VSWOs that receive donations from external sources are registered with the NGOAB as well. As of February 28, 2013, there are 2,209 NGOs registered with the NGOAB. The NGOAB had cancelled the registration of 525 NGOs as of January 11, 2012.
  • (c) As of July 2010, there were 527 CSOs working as microfinance institutions (MFIs). MFIs may also fall into either or both of the above categories.

Public Benefit Status

All CSOs are exempt from corporate tax under the provision of the Income Tax Ordinance of 1984.  Income generated from profit-earning activities must be spent for charitable purposes and not appropriated by any individual in the form of dividends.

Both corporations and individuals are able to claim a tax deduction for donations made for 22 designated public benefit purposes, including donations for old age homes, forestation, waste treatment plants, care for the disabled, potable water supply, education for orphans and street children, specialized hospitals for treatment of the extreme poor, public universities, etc.  Corporate donors may deduct the amount of the donation up to 10% of their taxable income. Individual donors may deduct the amount of the donation up to 20% of their taxable income, but not exceeding Taka 100,000 (approximately US $1,380).  Claiming a tax deduction requires prior approval from the National Board of Revenue (NBR) under the Ministry of Finance. The NBR gives a tax exemption certificate if the concerned donor fulfills all obligations as per the provisions of the labor law and pays all other taxes.

Barriers to Entry

Several barriers to the formation, establishment and registration of CSOs are worthy of mention.

First, the required number of minimum members is inordinately high.  To register under the Companies Act as a non-profit company, an organization must have a minimum of 11 members.  To register under the Societies Registration Act (SRA) as a society, an organization must have at least three times the number of members in the Executive Committee (EC); since CSOs registered under SRA must have an EC of at least seven members, it follow that a society must have at least 21 founding members.  For organizations registered under the Trust Act, the minimum number of members (Trustees) is five, and the number of general members must be at least three times more than the number of Trustees, that is at least 15.

Second, membership of CSOs, irrespective of where they register, is limited to adult citizens of Bangladesh.  Thus, non-citizens and minors are excluded from founding or belonging to CSOs.  In addition, government employees are barred from becoming office bearers (members of executive committees).

Third, the organization must possess a furnished office with proper address and signboard to be eligible for registration.  This amounts to an asset requirement and acts as a substantial barrier to registration.

Fourth, for registration under the SRA and the Companies Act, an organization must pay a registration fee of Taka 2,000 (approx. US $28) and Taka 15,000 (approx. US $207) respectively.  For trusts with assets of Taka 20,000 (approx. US $276) or less, the trust must pay a fee of Taka 2,540 (approx. US $35) for registration under the Trust Act. The fee is higher for higher levels of the value of assets.

Fifth, CSOs that seek funding from external sources must register, additionally, with the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), which operates within the Ministry of Establishment.  Banks do not allow the opening of an account by any organization that does not possess valid registration and will not disburse any foreign funds without prior approval from the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) and a letter of intent from the donor. For registration with the NGOAB, the organization must submit, in addition to an application, particulars of their bank account, a letter of intent from the donor, a copy of an annual activity report, and a copy of a financial audit report. NGOAB has to approve it within 90 days (60 days in case of renewal of registration) or may seek further clarification. The registration fee is Taka 10,000 (approx. US $138).

Sixth and finally, the registration process itself is complicated by bureaucratic hurdles and delays.  Notably:

  • Registration requires clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which must be accomplished within 60 days, though in practice it takes longer.
  • Registration is sometimes delayed on the pretext of police verification, and registration is sometimes denied due to an adverse police report corresponding to “prejudicial activities.” Prior clearance from National Security Intelligence (NSI) was recently made mandatory for registration under the SRA. It is an “open secret” that organizations pay bribes to officials of the registration authority in different forms to avoid delay and harassment.
  • Regarding registration with the NGO Affairs Bureau, the NGOAB reserves the right to reject an application if it is not “satisfied” with the objectives, constitution, or plan of operation; CSOs do not have a right to appeal.  Moreover, the registration is valid only for five years. During this period, the NGOAB has the power to cancel the registration.  To renew the registration, a fresh application for registration for another five year period must be submitted six months prior to the expiration date.

Barriers to Operational Activity

The government tends to see itself as the sole organ responsible for development and often makes stringent rules and regulations for CSOs in the field of development that burden their operational activities. CSOs are often under attack by the government bureaucracy and are criticized for the “privatization of development.” CSOs that are critical of government policies are sometimes branded as anti-state and are harassed in many ways, including the blocking of disbursement of foreign funds, delays of project approval, and even cancellation of registration.

While the facilitating role of the government was manifested with the creation of the NGOAB for one-stop service and easing of regulatory measures, the general attitude of some in the bureaucracy toward the voluntary sector remains largely passive and hostile. The government often perceives CSOs as a competitor for scarce overseas development assistance (ODA).

The government can suspend activities of a CSO or even cancel its registration for the non-submission of reports to its respective registration authority. So far, the NGOAB has cancelled the registration of 334 CSOs for alleged “unlawful activities” and cancellation for another 90 CSOs is being processed. Punitive measures can also be taken if the CSO is accused of a criminal offence. The wide scope of crimes punishable by death under the Anti-Terrorism Act, including “financing terrorist activities,” carries a tremendous risk of irreversible miscarriage of justice, which may chill CSO members from engaging in certain economic activities.

Internal Affairs

Detailed requirements apply to the internal structure and affairs of all CSOs. Members of all CSOs, except cooperative societies, as per provision of their article of association, elect an Executive Committee (EC) or governing body comprising seven to 11 members, including a Chair, a General Secretary, and a Treasurer. This is applicable to all organizations irrespective of where they are registered.

An annual financial audit by a recognized firm is mandatory. At present, there are 71 audit firms registered with the NGOAB, from which a CSO has to choose for its audit.

Officials from the registration authority may attend EC meetings or the Annual General Meetings (AGMs), especially if invited in case of disputes among members. In case of a dispute, the registration authority may replace the existing EC with a new one of its choice. The EC is responsible for financial management through designated staff, and must function within the budget limits approved by the registration authority. Any change in the program and the budget requires prior approval from the authority.

The CSO is free to open an account in any scheduled bank. Only one bank account can be maintained for receiving foreign donations. Separate bank accounts for separate projects may be maintained for internal transactions after the donations are received.

The 1961 Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance gives the government power to intervene in the management structure of a voluntary social welfare organization (VSWO). The DOSS, as the registration authority, is empowered to suspend the Executive Committee (EC) of a VSWO without giving any right to appeal, but the governing body of a VSWO cannot dissolve itself without the approval of the DOSS.

Reporting Obligations

CSOs must submit activity reports and audited financial reports of the preceding year, and activity plans (programs) and the budgets of the coming year to their respective registration authority on an annual basis. The government can suspend activities of a CSO or even cancel its registration for non-submission of reports to its respective registration authority.

Civic organizations registered as “NGOs” with the NGO Affairs Bureau are also required to submit reports to the District Commissioner’s (DC) office on their use of the foreign funding received. In return, the DC issues a “No Objection Certificate” (NOC), which NGOs need to continue their work. NGOs may struggle to submit these reports due to a lack of staff capacity. NGOs are sometimes subject to harassment from the DC offices, in the form of delays or non-issuance of NOCs.

Government Harassment

CSOs are sometimes subject to government harassment (e.g., frequent inspections, requests for documents, etc.) for political reasons (for example, where the government feels threatened by the advocacy work of a CSO). The affected CSO may find it difficult to access legal remedies, since the justice system is cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive.

Involuntary Dissolution

In case of involuntary dissolution, the government assumes ownership of the remaining assets and may re-constitute the Executive Committee for running the CSO.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

CSOs are sometimes subject to government harassment in the form of frequent inspections or requests for documents (for example, where the government feels threatened by the advocacy work of a CSO). The affected CSO may find it difficult to access legal remedies, since the justice system is cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive. In other cases, the government may brand certain CSOs as “partisan” where these CSOs are critical of governmental actions and practices, such as ethnic discrimination, anti-poor labor law and wage policy, commercial extraction of natural resources, degradation of environment, or corruption.

The Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Act of 2013 (ICT Act), raised concerns that human rights defenders could be tried under the amended provisions, which rendered CSO representatives and individuals who voice dissent vulnerable. The amended law (1) classified some offenses as “cognizable” (meaning the police can arrest persons without the issue of a warrant); (2) made some offenses non-bailable; and (3) increased the period of imprisonment from 10 to 14 years for certain offenses. On September 14, 2023, the Cyber Tribunal, Dhaka sentenced Odhikar’s Secretary, Adilur Rahman Khan, and Director, ASM Nasiruddin Elan, to two years imprisonment and a Taka 10,000 fine under the ICT Act of 2006 for releasing a report on extrajudicial killings related to the Hefazat-e-Islam protests of 2013.

In 2018, the ICT Act of 2013 was replaced by the Digital Security Act (DSA). The Digital Security Act (DSA) severely undermined the ability of CSOs to engage in advocacy. The DSA criminalized various types of online speech, ranging from defamatory messages to speech that “injures religious values or sentiments.” According to Amnesty International, as of July 2021, Bangladesh had imprisoned at least 433 people under the DSA, most of whom were held on allegations of publishing false and offensive information online. Bangladeshi writer Mushtaq Ahmed, who was detained under the DSA in May 2020 for allegedly posting criticism of the government’s response to the COVID-19 on Facebook, subsequently died in police custody . Bangladeshi human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and academics, as well as international NGOs, have demanded the immediate release of people arrested under the DSA, and the repeal of the act itself.

On September 13, 2023, the Government of Bangladesh passed the Cyber Security Act (CSA) of 2023, replacing the DSA. Although the CSA made ten offenses bailable that were previously unbailable, marking some improvement, the CSA has retained the majority of offenses under the DSA. The CSA continues to limit the freedom of expression by criminalizing speech on vague and broad categories and gives the authorities vast powers to obtain and censor data information. Concerns remain that the authorities could misuse the CSA to arrest, detain, and silence dissenting voices.

The Right to Information (RTI) Act (2009) provides public access to the information of public, autonomous, and statutory organizations, as well as private organizations, to ensure transparency and accountability. CSOs all over the country are required to follow the Act and disclose information that is considered within the public’s right to know. Nevertheless, only a few CSOs are aware of and follow the Act’s requirements. In 2022, ICNL conducted a series of RTI trainings to raise awareness among CSOs of how to leverage the RTI Act more effectively.

Barriers to International Contact

CSOs are free to interact and cooperate among themselves and with donor agencies at home and abroad through any means of communication. There is no bar to attending conferences inside or outside the country. CSOs participate in UN and other international conferences as important stakeholders.

Barriers to Resources

The ability of CSOs in Bangladesh to access international funding has long been stifled by formidable barriers, including the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, 2016. As mentioned previously, the government established the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) under the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate and regulate the activities of CSOs operating with foreign funding. CSOs seeking to secure international support must first be registered with the NGO Affairs Bureau (known as FD Registration) and secondly secure project approval from the same Bureau. The NGOAB is responsible for all contact with CSOs under the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, 2016.

Several new restrictions were also introduced in 2021 and 2022. According to a 2021 NGOAB regulation, CSOs that remain inactive for five years and cannot secure international funding are subject to cancellation by the Bureau. In addition, newly registered organizations are given just six months to secure foreign funding, as written on the back of their registration certificates; this limitation can result in cancellation by the Bureau.

A November 2021 Prime Minister’s circular introduced a new barrier to re-granting. Specifically, CSOs registered with the NGO Affairs Bureau can provide grants or financial assistance only to another organization registered with the Bureau. At present, there are only 2,529 CSOs registered with the NGO Affairs Bureau, but more than 200,000 CSOs registered under other governing laws of the country. Due to the Prime Minister’s circular, those CSOs registered under other governing laws but not with the NGOAB will no longer be able to receive grant support from domestic or international CSOs registered with the Bureau.

The NGOAB also issued a circular in December 2021 which requires all CSOs to implement “anti-drug activities.” Issued upon the direction of the Department of Narcotics Control, the circular is related to Bangladesh’s continued campaign against drugs. To date, the NGOAB has not yet acted on this circular. Moreover, there is substantial confusion relating to its implementation. On its face, the circular mandates that all CSO projects, regardless of their objectives, include anti-drug activities. While the circular does not clearly define “anti-drug activities”, it does include examples of acceptable anti-drug activities to include community sensitization, sports or cultural activities to engage youth, helping to sponsor rehabilitation facilities, and sponsoring youth brigades for anti-drug campaigns. Once implemented, the NGOAB will not approve project proposals that do not include anti-drug activities and will ask the applicant to revise its activities and budget to include anti-drug activities.

Lastly, the NGOAB issued two circulars in January 2022. One circular issued on January 4 requires a CSO seeking NGOAB project approval for the use of foreign donations to submit a project summary with the project proposal. The project summary must include the project title, project duration, geographic area, number of beneficiaries, detailed budget, annual budget (if applicable), and district or sub-district budget. The NGOAB will then publish the project summary on its own (the NGOAB’s) website for public transparency.

Referencing the Right to Information Act, the other circular issued on January 17 requires all domestic and international CSOs working in Bangladesh and registered with the NGOAB to prepare and post designated information on their organizational websites. The required information includes the chairperson, executive director, country director, other directors, and point of contact for the NGOAB, along with the approved project activities. The circular emphasizes this must be completed within 15 days.

Barriers to Assembly

The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees the freedom of assembly, but excludes non-citizens. In Article 37, the Constitution states: “Every citizen shall have the right to assemble and to participate in public meetings and processions peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of public order or public health (italics added for emphasis).” Since December 27, 2014, however, amid calls by opposition parties for mass protests to demand new parliamentary elections, all peaceful protests and rallies by opposition leaders were banned in Gazipur District. In Dhaka, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, was imposed to officially ban all forms of public meetings.

Advance Permission
Organizers must secure prior permission from the local police authority to hold an assembly. For example, in 2013, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) issued a circular stating that organizers of any assembly, meeting or public gathering in open public places, such as streets, must submit an application to the Police Commissioner 7 days before an assembly. The Office of the Police Commissioner usually responds to the applicant within 5 days regarding whether permission is given or denied. Permission is likely to be denied where organizers seek to express views against the state or any religion. If permission is denied, that decision, for practical purposes, is final (although in theory one can file a case at the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh against a denial of permission).  Since 2012, police have been reportedly refusing permission to hold assemblies.

Time, Place, Manner Restrictions
In practice, Bangladeshi authorities have imposed time, place and manner restrictions on assemblies.

For example, on May 19, 2013, the Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir declared a prohibition on all kinds of political meetings and programs across the country for one month in the interest of ‘maintaining law and order.’

Local administrative authorities in Dinajpur prevented a protest gathering on November 23, 2012 by relying on Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code, which prohibits meeting in that area from 12.00 pm to 12.00 am.

The police have reportedly stated that permission for meetings and political activities will not be granted in certain places. For example, the main opposition party, the BNP, was refused permission to hold meetings in front of its party office on May 12 and 16, 2013.

The government has also imposed a prohibition on ‘human chain’ protests.

Content Restrictions
The Government often restricts assemblies with political objectives. The law enforcement agencies favor the ruling party and sometimes take part in the attack on protests involving the opposition. For example, on January 10, 2013, police stopped a peaceful hunger-strike by protesting school teachers in Dhaka and scattered the protesting teachers by using pepper spray and tear gas shells. Over 100 teachers were injured during this incident.

Responsibility of Organizers
Assembly organizers are liable for any misconduct, violence or damages that occur during the assembly. Any violation of such an obligation results in legal action against the organizers.

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Ordinance, 1976, Section 29 imposes criminal sanctions against the organizers and participants of assemblies and processions that violate the laws relating to assemblies: “Whoever contravenes any order made under section 29 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred taka, or with both.”

In practice, government authorities target assemblies protesting any state action.  Law enforcement agencies may erect barriers and stop such meetings and processions by attacking participants with batons or firing tear gas shells in the name of ‘public safety’.  In addition, police and the ruling party activists often prevent the assemblies planned by opposition groups.

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

General News

UN experts urge government to carry out major human rights reforms (February 2024)
UN experts urged the Government of Bangladesh to carry out major human rights reforms to reverse repressive trends in the country and restore political dialogue and participation. In the lead up to the elections, some 25,000 opposition leaders and supporters were arrested and 56 people killed in election related violence. There were also cases of torture and deliberate denial of healthcare for political prisoners and excessive use of force by law enforcement authorities. There have been no independent investigations into these violations, the experts said.

Why Opposition Parties in Bangladesh Are Boycotting Next Month’s Elections (January 2024)
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured a fourth consecutive term in office, according to the country’s electoral commission, maintaining her title as the world’s longest serving female head of government in an election boycotted by the main opposition party. Bangladesh, home to 170 million people, is the first country in South Asia this year to head to the polls. But turnout was low, with only 40% of approximately 120 million eligible voters taking part, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said at a polling briefing early on Sunday. The country had seen political unrest leading to Sunday’s general election. Polling booths were set ablaze on the eve of the vote, with four people, including two children, killed in a train fire.

Why Opposition Parties in Bangladesh Are Boycotting Next Month’s Elections (December 2023)
Bangladesh’s largest opposition party has decided to boycott next month’s general elections, saying that it cannot participate in a “sham vote.” Pro-democracy activists and analysts have expressed concern that there is no possibility the elections will be free and fair.

Condemnation of sentence of rights activists Adilur (September 2023)
The United Nations rights bodies, the European Union, and citizen rights groups and human rights activists continued condemning the jail sentence of internationally acclaimed human rights defender Adilur Rahman Khan and his colleague ASM Nasiruddin Elan in a cyber case over their fact-finding report in 2013. The Dhaka Cyber Tribunal jailed Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan for two years each for their report about the violence and operations during the Hefazat-e-Islam demonstrations on May 5-6, 2013.

UN human rights chief urges Bangladesh to halt abuse of digital law (April 2023)
UN human rights chief, Volker Turk, called on the Bangladesh government to immediately suspend the abusive practices of the country’s controversial Digital Security Act (DSA). “I am concerned that the Digital Security Act is being used across Bangladesh to arrest, harass and intimidate journalists and human rights defenders, and to muzzle critical voices online,” Turk said in a statement issued by the world’s top rights defending body from its Geneva office.

Bangladesh scrapping rights group’s license sends ‘chilling message’ (June 2022)
Bangladesh’s government has cancelled the operating license of one of its top human rights groups in a move critics say is intended to send a “chilling message” to rights defenders in the country. Odhikar, the rights group, stated that Bangladesh’s NGO Affairs Bureau, which comes under the remit of the prime minister’s office, refused to renew its license and accused the group of “tarnishing the image of the state to the world”. The group had documented alleged rights abuses by Bangladesh’s notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).

Digital Security Act (DSA) Misuse and Abuse (December 2021)
Acknowledging that the Digital Security Act (DSA) was misused and abused, Law Minister Anisul Huq said steps were taken to stop this practice. He said the first step was the initiation of a dialogue with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The move was aimed at doing whatever was needed to follow the best practices in the world. The minister also said law enforcement agencies now look into a complaint before any case is registered under the DSA. The case is registered only when it is recommended by a cell within the law enforcement agencies.

Bangladesh using controversial law to ‘gag media, free speech’ (May 2020)
A number of journalists have been arrested for social media posts critical of the government or reporting on the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 60 cases have been filed against more than 100 people, including 22 journalists, under the DSA this year until May 6, according to a study by Article 19, a UK-based human rights body. On May 6, at least 11 people, including a cartoonist, two journalists, and a writer, were charged with “spreading rumors and carrying out anti-government activities”.

Could the new social welfare law cripple NGOs? (June 2019)
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have expressed grave concern over the draft Volunteer Social Welfare Organizations (Registration and Control) Act, 2019. The NGOs have described several sections of the draft as “restrictive and unconstitutional”.

Bangladesh opposition website shut down ahead of polls (December 2018) 
Bangladesh’s main opposition website has been shut down amid accusations the government is muzzling dissent ahead of next week’s general election. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said authorities had closed the site since last week when they shut 54 news portals and websites for what they claimed were security reasons.

Bangladesh is set to replace its notorious internet law — but the new one looks even worse (September 2018)
In early 2018 the Bangladesh government promised to repeal the notorious Information and Technology (ICT) Act, which has been used to silence critics and media workers. But instead of repealing and improving this law, the Bangladeshi parliament made it worse. Passed just before the start of election season, the new Digital Security Act expands and reinforces the most draconian aspects of the ICT Act.

Digital Security Act: Freedom of expression to get hurt (March 2018)
The European Union and 10 countries including the US and the UK have expressed concern over several sections of the proposed Digital Security Act, 2018. They sat it “would suppress freedom of expression in multiple ways” and that they “are particularly alarmed about the threat of severe punishment for merely expressing a belief or opinion, about the imprecise terminology which could lead to misinterpretation of law, the non-availability of bail for certain offences and the empowerment of the security agency to detain a citizen without a warrant from a court.”

Another controversial election not tenable (January 2018)
At least 154 people were killed extra-judicially, 139 of who fell victim of so-called crossfire, in the country in 2017, reports human rights group Odhikar. The report was prepared on the basis of allegations from the families of 86 people who were victims of ‘enforced disappearance’ in the year, which also witnessed continued suppression of the opposition by the government.

NGO reps urge president to block restrictive law (October 2016)
In early October, the parliament passed the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, which the cabinet had approved in June 2014. NGOs are urging the President of Bangladesh not to give his assent to the Act, which would not only violate NGOs’ right to resources, but also their freedom of expression— the approved Act allows the cancellation of registration with the NGOAB for conducting anti-state activities, financing terrorism, or making “malicious” or “derogatory” statements against the constitution and constitutional bodies of Bangladesh.

Front Line Defenders: Bangladesh – Parliament passes Foreign Donations Regulation Bill to deregister NGOs commenting against authorities (October 2016)
Front Line Defenders is concerned that the Foreign Donations Regulation bill fall short of international standards relating to the right to freedom of association, and that the law will further restrict the space for human rights NGOs in Bangladesh. Front Line Defenders urges the Bangladeshi parliament to repeal the current bill and to refrain from passing it into law.

Money bills act sent to committee for review (May 2016)
Parliament has mandated the standing committee on finance to review the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, which has been found to be too onerous to implement. MPs have complained about Parliament being reduced to a rubber stamp for Treasury proposals, including the budget, not simply because of the sheer volume that it puts forward but also because of procedural limitations. Civil society has also complained about the lack of time to make inputs into the budget, which has meant that submissions made during public hearings by the committee are noted but do not lead to any adjustments.

Violent groups aggravate government crackdowns on civil society (April 2016)
Academics, donors, journalists and political leaders are paying greater attention to intensifying governmental efforts to crack down on civil society organizations (CSOs) and constrain the space in which they operate. Freedom House, for example, has documented efforts to undermine political and civil liberties in a growing number of countries, causing a worldwide decline in freedom for the last ten years. Violent extremists in Bangladesh have been responsible for a spate of attacks against outspoken critics and bloggers. In January 2013, Asif Mohiuddin, a self-described “militant atheist” blogger, was stabbed near his office in Dhaka. Mohiuddin, a winner of a prominent award for online activism, was on an Islamist hit list because of his opposition to religious extremism. In another harrowing case in February of 2014, bio-engineer Dr. Avijit Roy and his wife Bonya Ahmed were attacked in Dhaka by machete-wielding assailants. Roy was a founder of the influential Bangladeshi blog Mukto-Mona (“Freethinkers”) and a champion of liberal values and secularism.

New proposed legislation to stifle the voice of rights defenders (June 2015)
FIDH, OMCT, and Odhikar urge authorities in Bangladesh to reject the proposed Cyber Security Act 2015 and the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act 2014, as they both violate international human rights standards on freedom of expression and association.

Political violence appalls Bangladesh, scores dead in arson attacks (February 2015)
Anxieties spread Bangladesh over the unabated political violence which has left scores of people dead, mostly in arson attacks, and hundreds injured since January 2015. The fresh wave of violence broke out on January 5, 2015, after former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s 20-party opposition alliance had called for countrywide nonstop blockade since January 6 and asked its supporters to take to the street for a new election under a non-party caretaker government system. Both sides are now blaming each other for the violence.

Bangladesh police ban protests and lock opposition leader in office (January 2015)
Bangladesh police banned all protests in the capital and locked main opposition leader Khaleda Zia in her office in Dhaka as tension rose before the first anniversary of an election her party boycotted. “We imposed the ban as rival rallies by the political parties raised fears of clashes,” Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP. Police also stormed the home of the deputy leader Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, Somoy Television, who Zia had been attempting to visit. Officials said at least 400 of her party supporters were arrested, including two other senior party figures, ahead of the poll anniversary.

UK notes concern over civil society, press freedom (October 2014)
The United Kingdom has said new policies and legislation developed in Bangladesh have generated concerns about restrictions on civil society space and media freedom. In its case study update on Bangladesh, which forms part of the 2013 Human Rights, and Democracy Report, the UK said that proposed amendments to the Foreign Donations Act could limit the work of civil society if Bangladesh adds further procedural requirements to existing regulations governing NGOs in receipt of foreign donations. Also, the recently formulated National Broadcast Policy (2014) has generated concern over potential curbs on media freedom.

Bangladeshi security forces violently disperse workers on hunger strike (August 2014)
The Bangladeshi security forces violently dispersed a hunger strike by over 1,000 workers at the Tuba group of factories on August 6, 2014. This has been criticized by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) as the latest in a long list of recent violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and of association by the Government of Bangladesh. The factory workers had been on hunger strike since July 28, 2014 against the non-payment of three months wages and overtime dues when security forces surrounded the factory and violently dispersed the assembly with the use of batons, water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Several workers were injured and leaders of the strike were detained.

Law to regulate foreign funds passed (June 2014)
The Cabinet has approved a draft law to regulate receipt and utilisation of foreign funds by organisations in Bangladesh. The law prohibits political parties, Supreme Court judges, parliament members, government and semi-government employees and elected members of local councils from receiving funds from abroad. NGOs will be registered for a period of 10 years and that may be revoked anytime if the organisation violates regulations, said the Cabinet secretary. An individual will not need to register for receiving donations for PhD or research but they will need approval of the NGO Affairs Bureau.

Civil society members protest the abduction of Siddique (April 2014)
People from different spheres of the civil society have held a public meeting protesting the abduction of Abu Bakar Siddique, husband of prominent environmentalist Syeda Rizwana Hasan, in front of the National Press Club. While speaking at the meeting, they urged the government not to make only “vague” promises but act quickly to recover Siddique.They said any of the killers of Journalist couple Sagar and Runi were yet to be captured even after two years of the murder although the then state minister promised to capture the “criminals within 48 hours.”

News Archive

Adilur’s bail plea rejected (October 2013)

PM criticises civil society advocating non-party govt (September 2013)

Release Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of Odhikar and member of OMCT General Assembly (August 2013)

Human rights defender, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan arbitrarily detained (August 2013)

Development experts convene in Dhaka to discuss post-MDG targets (January 2013)

FCRA proposal should be available to public for scrutiny (December 2012)

Let international NGOs help Rohingyas, says US official (November 2012)

MPs strike back at Transparency International over report (November 2012)

Human rights defenders in Bangladesh are at constant risk (November 2012)

Government preparing database on NGOs (October 2012)

Bangladesh government working on policy for online news portals (September 2012)

NGOs in Bangladesh subject to more delays and hurdles as a result of new Commission (September 2012)

New Commission to investigate “anti-state” activities of NGOs (August 2012)

NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) drafts new law to regulate NGOs (August 2012)

UNHCR urges Bangladesh to lift ban on NGOs (August 2012)

Dhaka bans NGOs from helping Rohingya (July 2012)

Some NGOs carry out ‘anti-state activities’ (July 2012)

NGOs under surveillance (June 2012)

Government likely to cancel registration of NGOs in three hill districts (May 2012)

Hillary Clinton’s remarks on civil society in Bangladesh (May 2012)

NGOs’ financial transactions to come under surveillance (April 2012)

39 NGOs announce information disclosure policy (April 2012)

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2009 (Amendment) Bill 2012 passed in the Parliament (March 2012)

NGOs’ socio-economic impact in Bangladesh (February 2012)

WB appoints NGO to monitor its projects (February 2012)

EU pleads for strengthening human rights in Bangladesh (February 2012)