Authorities in the Chinese capital have cut off the utilities and destroyed the central heating system of a prominent non-governmen organization (NGO) set up to help migrant workers, as a new law came into effect placing foreign-funded NGOs effectively under police control.
Officials from Beijing's Jinzhao township and Picun village led a 50-strong demolition team that included police and urban management officials to the headquarters of Migrant Workers Home on Dec. 29, the group's leader said.
The team destroyed the only working central heating boiler at the premises, leaving employees and volunteers with no way to continue their work, the group's leader Wang Dezhi told RFA.
"We don't know what this is about," Wang said, adding: "We are in communication with the village and township governments."
He said the village government has previously tried to get the group to leave its existing premises.
"That's right," Wang said. "They didn't say anything about that, but I can't really give you an interview right now."
The owner of the premises, who gave only her surname Tian, said she has no quarrel with the Migrant Workers Home as a tenant, and hasn't asked them to leave.
But she said the authorities unilaterally cut off the electricity supply to the Migrant Workers Home offices.
"The electric has been cut off for more than two months already, and now they have smashed up their furnace," Tian said. "[They] have been really hard hit by this; are they trying to freeze them to death?"
"We are pretty angry, just hearing about it, but they won't take any notice of us," she said. "They have already told us that our rental contract has been canceled, but there are laws governing contracts, and they shouldn't go breaking them."
"A contract is a matter between two parties, and we [the landlords] aren't telling Wang and the others to leave. It's [the government] that is doing that."
The attack on Migrant Workers Home came as the Overseas NGOs Domestic Activities Management Law, which enables police to engage in daily supervision and monitoring of foreign civil society and rights groups operating in China, went into effect.
The law was passed by the National People's Congress last April, and was immediately criticized by rights activists as another attack on the country's embattled civil society. It went into effect on Sunday.
The legislation hands full authority for the registration and supervision of foreign NGOs in China to the country's ministry of public security, and police agencies across the country.
Draconian new rules
Under the new law, Chinese police are now able to enter the premises of foreign NGOs and seize documents and other information, as well as examine groups' bank accounts and limit incoming funds.
They will also have the power to cancel any activities, revoke an organization's registration, impose administrative detention on its workers, as well as taking part in the annual assessment of foreign NGOs, required for the renewal their operating permit.
The new law will also allow police to blacklist NGOs deemed guilty of national security-related crimes like subversion or separatism. Critics say definitions of what constitutes such crimes remain vague and subject to arbitrary interpretation by the authorities.
Henan-based AIDS activist Sun Ya, who has long worked with the Beijing-based Aizhixing health rights group, said the draconian new rules have forced a number of civil society groups to close in recent months.
"Even if they are still able to receive funding and carry out their activities, it will become completely meaningless [because of th level of political control]," Sun said.
"Whoever heard of an NGO that was set up to do something that has nothing to do with politics or anything else sensitive? Whoever heard of a leisure activities NGO?"
An NGO worker surnamed Liu said the law also puts far more obstacles in the way of groups receiving overseas funding.
"If a group wants to receive funds from overseas now, they have to go through a lot more red tape here in China, and basically they're not allowing NGOs to operate any more, because they won't be able to get their overseas funding," Liu said.
Rights activist Guo Chunping agreed.
"Many of the groups that realized they couldn't continue have already dissolved," Guo said. "Either that or they're keeping an extremely low profile so as to avoid any involvement with politics."
Reported by Xin Lin and Ding Wenqi for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.