CHINA> Regional
Legal help group told to pack up
By Zhu Zhe and Cui Xiaohuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-18 09:11

Beijing municipal authorities ordered the closure of a legal assistance group on Friday for not been "registered properly".

The Gongmeng Legal Research Center, made up mainly of Beijing-based lawyers, had been providing legal help since 2005 to the country's weaker groups, including some of the parents of children who fell ill after drinking contaminated milk powder last year.

More than a dozen officials of Beijing's civil affairs bureau, which oversees civil groups in the capital, visited the center's office in west Beijing on Friday morning and ordered it to shut down. The officials, carrying a legal closure notice, seized some files and computers, too, the center said.

The move comes two days after the Beijing tax authorities sent a formal notice to the center, imposing a hefty fine of 1.42 million yuan ($207,847) for having evaded taxes on funds received from overseas.

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Xu Zhiyong, the center's legal representative and an outspoken lawyer, said: "The bureau has no legal right to order a closure The research center has always been a division of the company that is registered with the authorities. There is no legal proof to show our group has not been registered properly."

Beijing's civil affairs and taxation bureaus, and the municipal office of the State taxation administration refused to provide information on the center on Friday.

But Xu conceded that the group had not paid the full tax on donations from organizations such as Yale University in the US in time. "We committed small mistakes, but the tax bureau imposed the heaviest fine."

He said he had to register his group as a company in 2005 because the authorities were reluctant to issue licenses for civil groups.

Xu's group got wide coverage in the national media last year when it helped parents of the contaminated milk scandal victims get compensation. The tainted milk products caused the death of at least six kids and left about 300,000 suffering from urinary track ailments, including kidney stones.

Last month, the group's lawyers hit the headlines again for providing legal help to Deng Yujiao, a waitress who stabbed two local officials in Yesanguan, Hubei province, when they tried to sexually assault her. Later, she was released by a court.