Beijing closes online newsletter for NGOs

Beijing has shut down an online newsletter that reported on environmental and social issues for non-governmental organisations and international development agencies, the publication’s British founder said on Wednesday.

The move against the non-profit China Development Brief comes despite its long-standing editorial stance arguing that the international community should co-operate respectfully and constructively with China’s Communist government.

“I have spent the last decade telling foreigners that China is not as repressive and totalitarian as western media often portray it to be,” founder Nick Young said, adding that he had used more than a decade of official tolerance of his publication to justify that view.

Mr Young said it was unclear why authorities had chosen to target the Brief now, but that he had been accused by police of breaking China’s statistics law and was facing punishment that could include a fine or deportation. Beijing police declined to comment.

Chinese leaders have long been concerned that the development of “civil society” institutions such as NGOs that do not come under their direct control could undermine the Communist party’s power.

While the government has embraced a role for NGOs, especially in areas such as Aids prevention, their legal status remains ambiguous and some have complained of chronic harassment.

The Brief has been seen as providing a key forum for exchanges of experience and information between development agencies.

Mr Young said it had in past editorials argued that the Communist party was the only contender for power in China and stable leadership was essential for equitable development. It had also denounced what it dubbed western racism and arrogance on development issues.

However, the newsletter has also reported on sensitive topics such as rural unrest and may have been targeted for contravening China’s ban on foreign ownership of domestic media.

Mr Young said he had not been accused of breaking any media law but of illegally conducting “surveys”, an activity he said police appeared to be defining to mean “asking a Chinese person a question and then writing about it”.

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