06/16/2015, 00.00
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NGO activists arrested as China tightens grip on civil society groups

Guo Bin and Yang Zhanqing were advocates for the rights of the disabled and consumers. The details of the charges against them have not been made public. Both have not been able to receive visitors. Their detention is “a clear indicator of the way their [government] thinking is going; they are not individual and isolated cases,” said a colleague. New, even more restrictive legislation is on the way.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have taken into custody Guo Bin and Yang Zhanqing, two activists linked to a leading NGO, for "illegal business activity;” said Lu Jun, a founder of the Beijing Yirenping Centre.

Nothing is known as to the nature of the charges; however, some believe they were targeted because of their international visibility.

Guo, now head of the Zhongyixing centre that advocates for the rights of the disabled, was taken away by police. Yang, who works independently on consumer rights issues, was taken from his home in Huizhou, Guangdong, also by police.

"I'm not sure what the real reason [for their detention] is, but we expect that this has something to do with Yirenping," said Guangdong-based rights lawyer Pang Kun. "They were both taken to detention centres on the day they were detained, and they weren't allowed visitors."

In recent months, Beijing has intensified its pressure on civil society groups. Under existing regulations governing NGOs, issued by the Civil Affairs Ministry in 2012, non-governmental organisations must release an annual financial statement, and foreign donations are banned.

In addition to a detailed annual report, NGOs are also required to release a financial statement every three months for every project that exceeds three months. Likewise, foundations can only use their name, image and projects for charitable activities.

Although current rules are very strict, the government’s draft law is even more restrictive, to the point that a group of lawyers wrote an open letter to the National People’s Congress asking its members not to approve it.

A former colleague of Guo's and Yang's, who identified himself by a nickname, Geng Shu, said that Guo’s and Yang’s work “was completely within the law” and “received a lot of very positive reporting in the [state] media".

In his view, the entire NGO sector is now worried about the draft NGO Management Law.

"These detentions,” he warned, “together with the NGO Management Law, are a clear indicator of the way their [government] thinking is going; they are not individual and isolated cases”.

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