February 7, 2006

China activist quits amid crackdown on NGOs

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's crackdown on domestic
non-governmental organizations has forced an AIDS activist to
quit the group he set up after international funding dried up
and some volunteers resigned in the face of intimidation.

Hu Jia's activism set him on a collision course with the
Communist Party, which has stepped up curbs on NGOs, the media,
the Internet, lawyers, academics and civil rights campaigners
to maintain its grip on power.

Hu announced his resignation from Loving Source -- an NGO
which he co-founded in 2003 to help orphans of AIDS victims --
to prevent authorities from harassing the group.

"I left to avoid trouble for Loving Source," the
32-year-old told Reuters on Tuesday.

The cabinet spokesman's office had no immediate comment.

Hu has been a thorn in the government's side and was either
under house arrest or tight police surveillance for a total of
126 days last year due to his political activism.

Hu quit the group after an international donor which had
pledged 100,000 yuan ($12,000) in aid this year pulled the
plug. He declined to name the donor, but attributed its
decision to apparent pressure from the Chinese government.

The NGO's board has yet to decide on a new head.

The crackdown has also taken its toll on student
volunteers, some of whom resigned after questioning by agents
from the state security apparatus, he said, adding that others
were warned by school authorities to distance themselves from
the group.

"Overt and covert pressure scared away some volunteers,"
the activist said. The group has about 200 volunteers.

With mostly domestic donations, Loving Source is financing
the livelihood and education of 135 AIDS orphans, costing
anywhere from 600 yuan to 3,200 yuan per student each year. It
plans to increase the number of beneficiaries by 50 this year.

Three editors of the group's bi-monthly magazine have also
resigned. It has a circulation of about 2,000 and is given away
to current or potential volunteers and donors as well as health

Last year, tax auditors sifted through the group's books.
No financial irregularities were found.

"Our accountant quit in fear," Hu said, adding that Loving
Source closed its bank account and donations were now remitted
directly to beneficiaries.

China welcomes international NGOs and the millions of
dollars they bring annually to make up for a dearth of
government spending in public welfare and environmental

But China's capital, Beijing, required about 200 domestic
NGOs to re-register as enterprises last year, banning them from

using words such as "research institute." This made it more
difficult for them to raise funds abroad because they could not
reflect their status as non-profit organizations.

"It's using soft methods to narrow the space NGOs can exist
in. The authorities are worried a civil society would bring
about a strong force that challenges its rule," Hu said.