Safeguard Defenders (SD) is a human rights NGO founded in late 2016 that undertakes and supports local field activities that contribute to the protection of basic rights, promote the rule of law, and enhance the ability of local civil society and human rights defenders in some of the most hostile environments in Asia.

SD also utilizes its extensive field network to spot changing or emerging trends on the ground, and to study, expose, and formulate responses to such developments. It also uses such information to release a steady stream of cutting-edge research, exposing issues often long before the greater sphere of media, NGOs, and governments become aware of them.

At any given time, Safeguard Defenders is running about a dozen programs in target countries, primarily China and Vietnam. Our small group of management and central staff, spread between Western Europe and East Asia, work with local partners, who include teachers, lawyers, local independent media organizations, and civil society organizations engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law.

For safety reasons, most staff and partners are kept anonymous, a testament to the severity of the human rights situation in our target countries.

Safeguard Defenders is a registered foundation in the European Union (Spain), under the name Fundacion Safeguard Defenders (G88426192).


our story

The story behind Safeguard Defenders goes back to 2009, the year when a small NGO called China Action was founded in Beijing by human rights activists Peter Dahlin from Sweden and Michael Caster from the U.S. and a small group of Chinese rights lawyers and other human rights defenders (HRD).

Its mission was to support China’s fledging lawyer community. It ran training programs and capacity-building projects as well as provided direct support for legal interventions and other assistance to HRDs at risk.

It also established a string of legal aid centres across China, working with and specializing in supporting China’s frontline legal defenders, also called "barefoot" or "citizen" lawyers. These stations offered pro-bono legal aid in China’s smaller cities and to local communities. Cases often concerned the rampant abuse and violation of laws by local police and government.China Action was shuttered in 2016 after Chinese authorities targeted it in a major crackdown and when many of its staff and partners were detained, disappeared, or imprisoned, including Peter.

In the six years before it was forced to close down, China Action worked quietly behind the scenes, expanding its support programs year by year. Despite its low profile, the organisation was periodically harassed by the Chinese authorities. China's Ministry of State Security pressured a young assistant to work as a "mole". Another young assistant was targeted as part of an attack on gender and LGBT activism. Meanwhile, both police and state security agents would regularly force training programs to close down, detaining and harassing staff and, more frequently, partners. They would also track, monitor, and surveil training activities held in nearby countries. Despite such setbacks, the reach and scope of China Action's work continued to grow.

By the time China Action was forced to close, it had conducted 150 direct interventions to help HRDs, trained some 800 lawyers and "barefoot" lawyers at over 100 training sessions, and provided legal aid and filed some 1,000 lawsuits on the behalf of victims of illegal government actions.

The foundation for Safeguard Defenders was laid in 2016, followed by a public launch in 2017. The organisation has inherited the mission of China Action, but with an expanded scope to support the survival and effectiveness of civil society and HRDs in some of Asia's most hostile environments, including China.

Safeguard Defenders (SD) is a Pan-Asian Human Rights NGO that seeks to protect and promote human rights, the rule of law, and local civil society operating in the most hostile environments. It works through direct actions to support and strengthen front-line rights defenders and civil society. It also provides tailored support to strengthen local civil society capacity to affect change and protect and promote basic rights.

who we are

Safeguard Defenders (SD) engages in field operations in hostile environments and must therefore be mindful of the associated security implications. Only management and central staff are presented here.

Our management and central staff are based throughout Western Europe and East Asia. All field staff are based locally, alongside both long- and short-term partners and partnering civil society organizations.

Contractors and consultants complement Safeguard Defenders' staff as required. All field staff and local partners are nationals of those countries.


peter dahlin

@Peterinexile, Swedish, based in Spain, was the Director of China Action based out of Beijing from 2009 to 2016. Prior to moving to China in 2007, Peter worked for the Swedish government with gender equality. Peter holds an M.A. in political science. Peter was the editor of "Trial By Media" and a contributor to "The People’s Republic of the Disappeared".

campaign director

laura harth

@LauraHarth, Belgian, based in Italy, is responsible for SD’s external activities, advocacy with national and multilateral institutions, and media engagement. Laura holds an M.A. in international law human rights. She also acts as Magnitsky Coordinator for the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and serves on Hong Kong Watch’s Advisory Board.

research director

dinah gardner

Dinah Gardner, British, based in Taiwan, heads SD’s Taiwan office and is responsible for research outputs, and working with other staff in producing reports and investigations. Dinah holds two M.A. degrees, the most recent in Asia-Pacific studies from Taiwan’s National Chengchi University. She spent two decades working as a journalist in China and East Asia.

field operations manager

zhang zhiming

Zhang Zhiming, Chinese, administers SD’s work helping human rights defenders, including legal support, financial aid, medical rehabilitation, as well as planning local activities. Zhiming is a long-time rights defender who went into exile in 2015. Zhiming specializes in planning and carrying out field operations for local activities and risk management.

administrative manager

marta noval felgueroso

Marta Noval Felgueroso, Spanish, is responsible for SD’s administration, human resources- and grant management. She has a professional and academic background in the international development sector and project administration. In addition, she has experience in Myanmar-specific assistance to HRDs, and hate speech and disinformation detection.

local projects' manager

liu piaopiao

Liu Piaopiao, Chinese. Liu assists local civil society groups develop localized projects and expand their on-the-ground efforts in some of the most challenging environments. He holds a degree in Human Rights and Asia-Pacific Studies. He has been actively involved in civil society movements in China since 2008, gaining experience managing local NGOs.


fung tsang

Fung Tsang, Hongkonger, Researcher and Coordinator at the organization's Taiwan office. Fung holds an M.S. in political science and gender studies. Prior to joining SD, Fung has previously worked in people-centered advocacy and worked at research institutes in the U.S., and a sexual rights organisation in Northern Europe.

training coordinator

liu zhiqiang

Liu Zhiqiang, Chinese, is a former lawyer and a long-time grassroots organizer. Liu's specialty is in working with "barefoot" lawyers, petitioners, and local rights defenders, often outside of China's major cities. Liu coordinates SDs' training and support work for local beneficiaries. Liu has worked extensively with China's fledging freedom of information (FOI) mechanism.

legal aid coordinator

wang mang

Wang Mang, Chinese, is a lawyer and former law professor. Wang specializes in criminal defense and courtroom procedures. Wang started as a teacher of law. More immediately prior to joining SD Wang was a practicing criminal defense attorney. Wang now coordinates our work to arrange legal defense for human rights defenders facing prosecution and persecution.

IT security coordinator

wang xiao

Wang Xiao, Chinese, is a former state media worker and journalist. Wang specializes in investigative journalism, news production and cyber-security. Before joining SD, Wang ran training programs for independent media in China, ranging from practical- to cyber-security for journalists. Wang now coordinates our safety work, and is a security consultant.

research associate

chen yen-ting

@ChenYenting4, Taiwanese, Research associate on transnational repression. Yen-ting is a former journalist and election campaigner specializing in investigative journalism and profile stories. He holds an M.A. in human rights from the University of York, where he researched on Uyghur activists' strategies. He now works specifically on Chinese long-arm policing. 

program manager

nguyen quoc

Nguyen Quoc, Vietnamese, spent close to a decade working for international human rights organizations, both inside Vietnam as well as in the greater East and Southeast Asia regions, in particular on issues related to local capacity development and cyber-security. He now runs our program on field safety in local operations for Vietnam’s civil society.


michael caster

@Michaelcaster, American, based in Southeast Asia, was a co-founder of China Action. He holds an M.A. in law and diplomacy at Tufts University and an M.A. in conflict studies from the University of Utrecht. He edited the book "The People’s Republic of the Disappeared". Michael also heads up our program work in Vietnam and works as a consultant.


General outreach

Please email us on All Safeguard Defenders emails are ProtonMail. Using ProtonMail email service to contact us will provide improved security. Safeguard Defenders also uses encrypted messaging platforms such as Signal and Telegram. If you prefer to use messaging APPs, please email us first with a request. You can also contact Safeguard Defenders with PGP. 



For any press inquiries, please contact us via All Safeguard Defenders emails are ProtonMail.


Urgent Actions and Public Interest Litigation

If you wish to submit an Urgent Action request, ensure the email subject line reads “Urgent Action” to guarantee a response within 48 hours. First make a request for a copy of the template form. Likewise, to request assistance for Public Interest Litigation, first request a copy of the template form, emailing us with "PIL" or "Public Interest Litigation" in the email subject line. Response may be delayed if the language is not in English, Chinese, French, or Vietnamese.


Newsletter and Twitter

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Our Twitter account, which tweets in English and Chinese, also provides timely updates.