Project 211

Students warned to stay away from research NGO

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 July, 2010, 12:00am


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Yet another high-profile NGO in China appears to have been blacklisted by authorities, as news emerged yesterday that Peking University had warned student groups to keep away from The Transition Institute, which researches and holds seminars on topics relevant to 'freedom and justice for a society in transition'.

The news was first leaked on Twitter yesterday as a self-claimed Peking University Chinese department student said all groups had received a message from the university's Communist Party Youth League's committee, asking whether any had come into contact with The Transition Institute 'in any form', from exchanges to jointly holding seminars.

'We have received notice from our superiors that an organisation named The Transition Institute has been using university student groups to hold sensitive seminars. The university has asked us to make initial investigations into this,' said the message, according to an e-mail that circulated among civil activists.

A Beijing-based lawyer close to the NGO confirmed the message was true, although the institute is still trying to investigate the exact source of the message and how many universities received it.

'This is a crisis for the institute, but they really want to keep the matter low-profile, since they still want to continue their work,' said the lawyer, who asked not to be identified because of possible reprisals. 'They are not sure why they are being targeted.

'All they are doing is research on public policies, and all such research is done openly and within government parameters.'

In March, Peking University abruptly terminated its affiliation with the Women's Legal Research and Services Centre, a legal aid provider that became involved in some high-profile cases, such as that of Deng Yujiao, the Hubei hotel hostess who stabbed an official to death in self-defence.

Universities have become a new battleground for clampdowns on NGOs. In February, Oxfam Hong Kong was named in an internal notice apparently issued by the Ministry of Education's Communist Party office that said it had been 'trying hard to infiltrate China' with 'ulterior motives', and told students to shun its training programme.

The Transition Institute, set up in 2007, researches issues such as freedom and justice for a society in transition, with main focuses on tax reform, industry regulation reform, civic participation and other transition experiences.

Since 2008, it has also held weekly seminars called the Civic Transition Forum, inviting speakers of various backgrounds, from academic experts to more controversial figures such as signatories of Charter 08, a document calling for reforms. One of its drafters, Liu Xiaobo, was sentenced to 11 years in jail last year.