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China legal aid centre closed over foreign donations: media
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 2, 2016

US raps China on Hong Kong booksellers
Washington (AFP) Feb 2, 2016 - Washington called on Beijing Monday to explain the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers, with a State Department spokesman saying the incidents "raise serious questions about China's commitment to Hong Kong's autonomy".

The five, all affiliated with Hong Kong's Mighty Current publishing house which is known for salacious titles critical of Beijing leaders, disappeared in recent months and are feared to have been detained in mainland China.

"We urge China to clarify the current status of all five individuals and the circumstances surrounding their disappearances and to allow them to return to their homes," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry Lu Kang said Tuesday it was "not proper" for the US to comment on China's domestic affairs.

"Hong Kong residents have been fully entitled to freedoms and rights in accordance with law" since the territory's return to China, he told a regular briefing.

Three of the five went missing in southern China. Another disappeared in Thailand and a fifth in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, raising fears Chinese authorities are extending their reach internationally.

Mainland law enforcers have no authority to operate in Hong Kong, where Lee Bo vanished on December 30.

Lee, who has a British passport, and Swede Gui Minhai, who vanished in Thailand, were both born in China and were rumoured to be preparing a tell-all book about the love life of President Xi Jinping.

Activists, local media and various politicians in Hong Kong have expressed concern that Lee may have been abducted from the city.

This would be a serious breach of the "One country, two systems" agreement under which Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 while retaining its own government and freedoms not available on the mainland.

Some of the former British colony's pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and residents believe mainland authorities are kidnapping critics to try to silence dissent.

Lawmakers from Britain and the European Union have also spoken out on the disappearances, with Sweden's foreign minister saying the treatment of its citizens was "completely unacceptable".

A women's legal aid centre shut down in Beijing was probably ordered to close because it took money from overseas donors, state media said Tuesday after US presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton backed its founder.

Beijing police ordered the closure of the Zhongze Women's Legal Counselling and Service Centre, which represented low income Chinese women free of charge, the state-run Global Times said.

"The (police) request may have resulted from funds that came from overseas organisations," it said, adding that the centre received funding from the US-based Ford Foundation.

The article comes as charity workers in China report increased police pressure about foreign funding, and as state-run media accuse overseas organisations of plotting to undermine the country's authoritarian political system.

China last month detained and expelled a Swedish human rights activist who had aided Chinese lawyers, after parading him on state television confessing to breaking the law.

The Zhongze centre, founded by lawyer Guo Jianmei after a high-profile United Nations conference on women held in Beijing in 1995, was seen as symbolising an emerging civil society in China attempting to use courts to challenge injustice.

It said in a statement on its website that it was closing as of Monday, thanking supporters without giving an explanation.

Potential Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton, who attended the conference, said on Twitter: "True in Beijing in 1995, true today: Women's rights are human rights. This center should remain-I stand with Guo."

Under President Xi Jinping, China's ruling Communist party under has reasserted controls over civil society, detaining more than 130 human rights lawyers and legal staff in the past year.

Beijing is preparing a new law which according to drafts would give police tighter controls over foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

In an op-ed, the Global Times said the centre's willingness to "take on sensitive cases and take foreign funds provides a perspective on this issue".

The editorial, attributed to Shan Renping, a penname for the paper's editor Hu Xijin, added that foreign aid "had a political slant and selectivity which could disturb Chinese society."

The Zhongze centre was renowned for defending Deng Yujiao, who in 2009 stabbed a government official to death after he attempted to sexually assault her. Public pressure led prosecutors to reduce the original charge of murder to the lesser "intentional assault".

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