Women's rights centre in China to close down amid crackdown on civil society

BEIJING (Reuters) - A prominent Chinese women's legal aid centre said on Monday (Feb 1) it will shut down, without supplying details, amid an intensifying crackdown on non-governmental organisations in China.

The closure of the two-decades-old Beijing Zhongze Women's Legal Counselling and Service Centre comes as the government is pursuing a new law on non-governmental organisations (NGO) that critics say could choke off their work by requiring them to get official sponsors and giving broad powers to police to regulate activities and funding.

"Thank you everyone for your long-time attention and support," the centre said in a short notice on its website.

It gave no further details.

Calls to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which is in charge of the regulation of non-governmental organisations, were not answered. The Ministry of Public Security also did not respond to a request for comment.

A woman who answered the phone at the centre said she was not allowed to speak, but confirmed it had ceased operations.

The centre, established under a different name after a United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, had provided research, legal and advocacy services to women from all over China.

Its website features pictures of its director, lawyer Guo Jianmei, with prominent figures from around the world, including 2016 US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Mrs Clinton, a former secretary of state, has drawn Beijing's ire before with her support for human rights in China.

In response to news of the centre's closure, she tweeted: "True in Beijing in 1995, true today: Women's rights are human rights. This center should remain - I stand with Guo."