CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's National Assembly on Tuesday passed a first reading of a bill to regulate and inspect non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the South American country, which has caused uproar among activists.
If the bill is passed into law following a second reading - promised to come quickly by National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez - advocacy groups fear it will silence Venezuela's NGOs and stop them from carrying out their work with new threats and intimidation.
The legislative project is gathering pace while Venezuela waits for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, to visit the country at the end of this week following his tour of the region.
"Criminalization advances. NGOs in Venezuela could be fined up to 200 Petros ($12,000) if they don't comply with the new law," local NGO the Venezuelan Action Education Program (Provea) said in a message on Twitter.
The Petro is a cryptocurrency which was launched by Venezuela's government in February 2018.
The 15-page bill entitled "law for the control, regularization, activities and financing of non-governmental and related organizations" was presented by deputy Diosdado Cabello, who is second in command of Venezuela's ruling party.
"If you are genuine and dedicated to social and humanitarian work, do you have anything to fear? You can register (and) the financing can be reviewed," Cabello said at in a broadcast via state television.
"Those screaming are those who are up to no good," he said, adding that some NGOs worked towards political goals and were backed by foreign governments.
More than 500 NGOs and foundations work in Venezuela, focused on topics including prisoner wellbeing, monitoring violence, investigating extrajudicial killings and reviewing economic indicators, among others.
If the bill is approved NGOs will have to declare their assets, balance sheets, financial statements and their "relationship with donations received, with full identification of the donors, indicating whether they are nationals or foreigners," according to the bill's text, published by the National Assembly.
These NGOs will be banned from "carrying out political activities, promoting or allowing actions that threaten national stability and the institutions of the republic," among others, according to the text.
(Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Stephen Coates)