A controversial bill, strictly regulating the functioning of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), was adopted on Thursday, April 18 at first reading by Parliament in Rwanda, a few months before the presidential and legislative elections.

Opponents of this project, which must soon return to parliamentarians for a final vote, point out that it limits civil liberties in a country that President Paul Kagame is accused of leading in a climate of fear, stifling dissent and freedom of speech.

The bill was passed with 45 votes in favor and none against, in a Parliament largely controlled by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). It plans to impose strict rules on the functioning of NGOs and in particular requires them to submit their budget for approval by the Rwandan authorities.

The text “will limit civic space because it gives the legislator the power to interfere in the daily management of NGOs, including in the dismissal of staff,” the head of the NGO explained to Agence France-Presse (AFP). Rwanda Civil Society Platform (RCSP), Joseph Nkurunziza. He fears that the bill will be hastily adopted, with the presidential election – where Paul Kagame is favored – and the legislative elections scheduled for July 15 implying a dissolution of Parliament in mid-June.

According to another opponent of the bill, who wished to remain anonymous, the text could be used to discourage civil society organizations from controlling the conduct of elections and the functioning of electoral bodies.

The minister in the president’s office, Judith Uwizeye, for her part defended the project before Parliament on Thursday, affirming that it would make it possible to fight against “unserious” and “misleading” organizations which do not fulfill their mandate.