Bangladesh has revoked licences for more than 6,000 charities over the last three years, an official said Tuesday, in a policy that critics slammed as a government attempt to extend its powers.
Masud Rana, spokesman for the social services department, said the licences for non-government organisations (NGOs) were withdrawn after charities were found to have collapsed or have changed their area of work.
"Most of these NGOs were sitting idle doing nothing or doing things other than they were permitted," Rana told AFP.
But the New York-based Human Rights Watch group said the closures were a deliberate move by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government.
"This is just a smoke screen to exert political control over civil society," said Brad Adams, Asia director at the HRW.
"The government increasingly acts as though it is interested in controlling the NGO sector to a minute level detail, which will only stifle civil society activity."
Bangladesh's government has also clashed with Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank and the celebrated pioneer of micro-financing which has helped millions of poor people across the developing world.
Yunus was fired last year from the bank, in what his supporters say was a government vendetta.
An estimated 50,000 charities operate in Bangladesh where 60 million people live below poverty line, with most projects providing healthcare, education, water, sanitation and food.
Premier Hasina has also been widely criticised for scrapping a neutral system for overseeing general elections.