By ANDREW JACOBS
BEIJING — Chinese security agents raided the offices of a leading human rights organization, according to its employees, the latest sign of the authorities’ mounting hostility toward nongovernmental groups, especially those that receive foreign funding or promote civic activism.
Employees say about two dozen police officers on Tuesday raided the Beijing Yirenping Center, which champions gender equality and employs litigation to fight discrimination against people with H.I.V., hepatitis and physical disabilities. Lu Jun, a founder of the group, said the raid was probably related to the group’s efforts to publicize the recent detentions of five female activists that have prompted international criticism.
The activists, who all have ties to Yirenping, had planned to hand out stickers and leaflets in Chinese cities to highlight the problem of groping of women on public transportation. They were taken into custody just ahead of International Women’s Day and are being held on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” a charge that has been used with increasing frequency against those the government considers potential threats to social stability.
Mr. Lu said the authorities carted away files, computers and laptops, and briefly detained one of the center’s employees before changing the locks on the doors.
“We can’t even get into the offices, and the police won’t give us any information,” said Mr. Lu, speaking from New York, where he is a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University. He said the center’s five employees, fearing for their safety, had left the Chinese capital.
It was unclear if the authorities intended to close the offices for good.
Since President Xi Jinping came to power more than two years ago, scores of rights defenders have been jailed as part of a crackdown on social activism and political dissent. But the detention of the five activists — young, social-media-savvy idealists — has struck a chord among women’s rights advocates around the world, prompting rallies, petition drives and support from Western diplomats. Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, has been especially vocal about the case, demanding on Twitter that the Chinese government free the women.
Lawyers for the detained women said some of them had been mistreated and subjected to lengthy interrogations and sleep deprivation. One woman, Wang Rongrong, has been denied critical hepatitis medication and has been spitting up blood, her lawyer said.
The Beijing Public Security Bureau did not respond to requests for comment, and the Foreign Ministry has dismissed expressions of concern from overseas. “No one has the right to ask China to release relevant persons, so we hope that relevant people will stop interfering in China’s judicial sovereignty in such a manner,” Hua Chunying, the spokeswoman for the ministry, said during a regular news conference on Wednesday.
Communist Party leaders have long been suspicious of independent organizations, but under Mr. Xi, the authorities have come to view such groups as potential conduits for subversion — with help from those they perceive as China’s enemies in the West. “Even though these organizations have tried to stay within the red lines of normally tolerated activism, the government still sees them as fomenting counterrevolution,” said Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong.
In recent months, the authorities have closed a network of rural lending libraries, harassed labor advocates and dismantled a well-regarded think tank, the Transition Institute, detaining several of its employees. “A lot of NGOs are facing tough times right now,” said Anthony J. Spires, associate director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The government is intent on shutting down perceived troublemakers.”
Most at risk are groups that rely on foreign support, which describes the vast majority of Chinese organizations dedicated to social justice. Mr. Lu said it was nearly impossible these days to raise money domestically despite the group’s record of accomplishment. Courtesy NYTimes