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Charity law will squeeze human rights work

HONG KONG (SE): The controversial Charities Law was passed by the National People’s Congress in China on March 16 and is set to take effect on September 1.

The law will restrict the ability of groups to raise money to government-approved charities and their proposed activities for the coming year must receive government approval.

Observers say that it will hit organisations that are involved in defending some of the nation’s weakest and most vulnerable people hardest, as human rights are certain to be a no-go area.

Radio Free Asia quoted the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network on April 4 as saying, “The new legislation is yet another tool the government can use to strangle independent organisations in China’s emerging civil society.”

The organisation said that the law places further restrictions on non-government organisations that are already hard hit by a nationwide crackdown on their activities under the administration of the president, Xi Jinping.

“Since President Xi Jinping came to power, authorities have drastically shrunk the space for independent groups to promote labour, health and women’s rights, and rights of persons with disabilities,” the group said.

“The Charity Law gives police only more legal tools to punish these groups for soliciting or receiving funding from both private and public charitable sources,” it said in calling the law a draconian measure in keeping with a global trend among authoritarian regimes.

Radio Free Asia quoted Zhang Lei, one of the founders of the Wuchanglong Assistance Fund, an organisation set up by three human rights lawyers, as saying that probably the organisation would have to discontinue its work.

“Their overall mission isn’t in harmony with our own, we don’t know much about them and we don’t trust them,” Zhang said in a recent interview.

Zhang said that he believes that there will certainly be a lot of restrictions placed on the voluntary work of the legal profession, as obviously, if there is not any money then a lot less cases will be taken up.

As a result, You Jingyou, a Fujian-based rights advocate, said that there will be fewer opportunities to overturn judgements involving a miscarriage of justice.

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders said that vague wording in the new defining a charity means any public interest activity could be treated as a charity. 

“These restrictions would close off potential funding channels for independent advocacy groups and for private citizens collecting funds online to support prisoners of conscience or government critics facing hefty fines by authorities,” the group added.

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