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MEDIA BARRED FROM COVERING DEATH OF FORMER COMMUNIST LEADER

Fearing possible protests, China's Communist Party has ordered television stations and newspapers not to report on the death this week of former leader Zhao Zhiyang, who was purged for opposing the 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. The order comes amid a new wave of censorship against government critics, say International PEN and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

According to the "Washington Post," propaganda authorities ordered state television and radio not to announce Zhao's death on the evening news on 17 January 2005. They also ordered newspapers to use only a brief one-sentence dispatch from the state-run New China News Agency, which referred to Zhao as a "comrade" rather than as the former Premier of the Communist Party.

Zhao had spent the past 15 years under house arrest after he was purged from the Party for challenging former leader Deng Xiaoping's order to use force on student protesters in Tiananmen Square. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were killed.

The move indicates that Chinese leaders are wary that Zhao's death may spur large-scale protests of the kind which took place after the passing of his predecessor Hu Yaobang in 1989.

Zhao's death comes amidst a crackdown on several prominent dissident intellectuals and writers, report the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

In recent months, a steady stream of writers, intellectuals and other dissidents have been arrested and harassed. Three intellectuals - Liu Xiaobo, Yu Jie and Zhang Zuhua - were detained for 12 hours on 13 December 2004. Liu and Yu had written articles for overseas Internet sites that authorities claimed "attacked the Communist Party and the government" (see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/63254).

In November, poet Shi Tong was arrested for "leaking state secrets overseas." That same month, six political commentators from the state-owned press were blacklisted.

They included Jiao Guobiao, a journalism professor at Beijing University who called for the abolition of the Propaganda Department and for the holding of free elections, Communist Party member Li Rui, writers and political commentators Wang Yi and Yu Jie, Tianze Economic Research Institute director Mao Yushi and Yao Lifa, a peasants' rights activist in eastern Hubei province.

RSF says the Party's Propaganda Department has been waging a struggle against reformist intellectuals, banning them from using the state-owned press to publicly raise concerns about the country's poorest citizens and to promote social justice.

For more information, visit:

- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=12320
- WiPC: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/dev/viewArticles.asp?findID_=258
- IFEX Alerts on China: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/archivealerts/147/
- Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16546-2005Jan17.html
- China Digital News Blog: http://journalism.berkeley.edu/projects/chinadn/en/archives/004387.html

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