Editor’s note: The Overseas NGOs Domestic Activities Management Law has taken effect in China since 1 January this year, under which the Ministry of Public Security is given full authority to supervise and monitor foreign-funded NGOs operating in the country. These NGOs, however, shall not fight alone in the plightful situation, as the Lawyers’ Legal Services Group was founded last Tuesday (3 Jan) by 36 human rights lawyers to provide them with legal assistance.
Chinese rights lawyers have set up an advice centre to help foreign-funded non-government organisations affected by a draconian new law subjecting their operations to police control. A group of 36 lawyers joined the Lawyers’ Legal Services Group on Tuesday (3 Jan) as founder members, pledging to offer legal assistance to NGOs in the wake of the new legislation.
According to government statistics, around 1,000 foreign-funded NGOs are currently operating in China in the long-term, while some 7,000 groups are carrying out short-term projects, with funding inflows totalling several hundred million dollars.
Founder member Chen Jinyue brushed off concerns that the group’s members could be targeted for further persecution amid a nationwide crackdown on hundreds of rights lawyers. “I think this will be helpful to NGOs, and that the added pressure on these groups is doing great harm to civil society,” Chen said.
“As a human rights lawyer I think we should stand in solidarity with them, we should make this our responsibility,” he said.
Embattled Civil Society
The Overseas NGOs Domestic Activities Management Law, which enables police to engage in daily supervision and monitoring of foreign civil society and rights groups operating in China, went into effect on 1 Jan.
Passed by the National People’s Congress last April, the law was immediately criticised by rights groups as yet another attack on the country’s embattled civil society. The legislation hands full authority for the registration and supervision of foreign NGOs in China to the country’s ministry of public security, and police across the country.
Chen said many groups have already had their sources of funding cut off, and those that haven’t are now subject to stringent controls.
Fellow member Wu Kuiming said that, without help, NGOs may die out in China altogether. “The space in which they are allowed to operate is getting smaller and smaller, compared with a few years ago when things were fairly liberal,” Wu said.
“They are bound to face new problems under the new system, so that’s why we had this idea; that was our intention,” he said.
Vast Police Powers
Under the new law, Chinese police are now able to enter the premises of foreign NGOs and seize documents and other information, as well as examine groups’ bank accounts and limit incoming funds.
They will also have the power to cancel any activities, revoke an organisation’s registration, impose administrative detention on its workers, as well as taking part in the annual assessment of foreign NGOs, required for the renewal of their operating permit.
Police can also blacklist NGOs deemed guilty of national security-related crimes like subversion or separatism, although definitions of such crimes remain vague.
Founder member Sui Muqing said working for such groups in China is now riskier than ever. “There has been a huge change in the environment for NGOs since they were set up, and we think that they are now at far greater risk than they were before,” Sui told RFA.
“I think that’s a broad consensus among lawyers, and there is room for us to do something about this as a profession,” he said.
Original Title: Chinese Lawyers Set Up Advice Centre to Aid Civil Groups
EdIted by: Red Balloon Solidarity