The Open Constitution Initiative, a high-profile Beijing-based NGO that advocates human rights for the underprivileged, has been fined more than a million yuan (HK$1.14 million) for tax violations, raising fears among other organisations that they might also face such treatment. The hefty fines underscore the plight of many mainland NGOs forced to register as for-profit businesses by an untrusting government. Although the constitution enshrines the right of freedom of assembly, each NGO and non-profit organisation must have a caretaker, often a government department or government-backed agency, before it can legally register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The rest, some of them branches of international NGOs, must register with authorities and pay taxes, a requirement that devours their precious donations. There are several million NGOs on the mainland, but only about 400,000 are registered. The taxes they pay are provincial - such as stamp duty and urban construction taxes - and state, under a two-tier system. Xu Zhiyong, who is legally responsible for the Open Constitution Initiative, said it had received a notice from the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau and the Beijing branch of the State Administration of Taxation ordering it to pay 1.23 million yuan in fines plus 180,000 yuan in back taxes by next Friday. No one at either office was available to confirm the fines, but Dr Xu said the state-imposed 900,000 yuan in fines and the 300,000 yuan worth of fines imposed by the local Beijing office were related to four grants from the Connecticut-based Yale University law school for projects such as a study of the mainland's household registration, or hukou, system.