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

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 in Italy, is responsible for SD’s advocacy and media engagements. She is SD's lead on transnational repression. Laura holds M.A.'s in international law, human rights and international relations. She acts as external liaison 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 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 across East Asia.

field ops. 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.

admin. 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 and project administration. In addition, she has experience in Myanmar-specific assistance to HRDs, and hate speech and disinformation detection.

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.


fuji chan

Fuji Chan, Hongkonger/Taiwanese, Researcher at Safeguard Defenders. Fuji holds an M.S. in political science and gender studies. Prior to joining SD, Fuji has worked as a sexual rights researcher/specialist in research institutes in the U.S. and Europe. Fuji specalises in people-centered approach in both research and advocacy work.


anson kwong

Anson Kwong, Hongkonger based in London, formerly served as a lecturer at a university in Hong Kong, researching the development of the CCP's United Front. Anson has contributed his expertise to various think tanks, charities, and media. Possessing an M.Phil. degree, Anson focuses on China in the world research.

campaign assistant

daniil pospelov

Daniil Pospelov, Russian, based in Eastern Europe, is a member of SD's campaign team. He previously worked for OVD-Info, a human rights and media project countering political persecution in Russia. While in Russia, Daniil also participated in electoral campaigns and combatting election fraud. He holds an M.A. in history.

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. 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 legal defense for human rights defenders facing persecution.

IT sec. 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

Taiwanese, Research associate on transnational repression. Yen-ting is a former journalist and election campaigner specializing in investigative journalism. He holds an M.A. in human rights from the University of York, where he researched Uyghur activist strategies. He now works 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.


You can reach us using the relevant specific mailboxes for the following issues:

General outreach > General inquiries

Press and media-related inquiries > Media inquiries

To seek support for in-country emergency aid in China or Vietnam, for legal aid, financial aid, or support for public interest litigations > In-country urgent assistance. Click Request Urgent Assistance button at top, or here, to read more about how to request such aid.

To seek support related to transnational repression, extraditions, deportations, and related abuse by China internationally > Transnational repression, extradition or abuse outside China. Click Request Urgent Assistance button at top, or here, to read more about how to request such aid.


Newsletter and Twitter

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