Crackdown on Chinese rights groups widens

In the latest raid, Beijing security forces visited an antidiscrimination NGO Wednesday to confiscate its newsletter.

BEIJING – As police raids go, this one was fairly low-key.

On Wednesday morning, three security officials went to the Beijing office of Yi Ren Ping, a nongovernmental organization that fights discrimination. They had come to confiscate copies of the group’s latest newsletter, which is circulated to other NGOs and academics. A lengthy argument followed, but nobody was detained.

Small change, it seemed. Except that Yi Ren Ping is not the first NGO in Beijing to get this treatment. A few weeks ago, authorities seized the computers of a prominent group of lawyers. Other civil rights lawyers have been disbarred in recent months.

It may be a pattern, part of the overall tightening of controls in the runup to Oct. 1, China’s national day and the 60th anniversary of the republic’s founding. Or it could be just a scattershot response by various arms of the government.

But it’s enough to rattle other NGOs in China. Some are wondering who will be next.

What the raids have in common is the targeting of groups that use legal recourse to stand up to state agencies. In the case of Yi Ren Ping (public welfare, kindness, equality), its focus is social justice and particularly antidiscrimination. It has filed lawsuits on behalf of people with Hepatitis B who face exclusion from school and work.

This was among the topics discussed in its bimonthly newsletter that caught the eye of the authorities. They told Lu Jun, the group’s coordinator, that he didn’t have a license to publish it. He argued that it wasn’t a commercial publication and didn’t need a license. In fact, only 100 or so are circulated.

While he was arguing his corner with the officials, he found time to pop into the next room in his small office to talk to reporters who had showed up after hearing about the raid. He told me that his campaigning had upset powerful people who wanted to take revenge on the group.

“The discrimination problem in China is very serious … the government should support our work. We’re doing what they’re not doing to help people,” he said.

Contacted later by phone, he said the officials had taken the newsletter and ordered him to show up next month at the office that had led the raid. No charges were filed. Mr Lu said he planned to sue the government department behind the raid.

This was the third visit this year by security forces to Yi Ren Ping’s office. It may not be the last.

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