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Journalists held, interrogated for investigating death of Chinese activist

(IFJ/IFEX) - September 13, 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association in strongly condemning the false imprisonment and harassment of two Hong Kong-based journalists in Daxiang District , Shaoyang City, in China's eastern Hunan province as they investigated the suspicious death of a Chinese activist.

On September 12, Hong Kong-based newspaper Ming Pao reported that two of its journalists were harassed and falsely imprisoned in a hotel for 44 hours, and held under the surveillance of the local security bureau without explanation. The pair were detained once the security bureau discovered that the journalists were investigating the suspicious death of Chinese activist Li Wangyang.

It is alleged that at least ten security agents pulled the journalists by the hair into a police car, and took them to a second location to be detained.

During the detention, authorities deprived the journalists of sleep over a period of two days and interrogated them as to the purpose of their trip. Security officers also confiscated the journalists' phones, computers, cameras and audio recorders, deleting all material on them. They are also alleged to have forced the journalists to reveal the passwords to their email accounts and checked all of their mails and phone calls. One of the journalists was also threatened that his return to Hong Kong might be prevented, if he did not cooperate.

"Under heavy surveillance and denied the right to call my family or supervisor, I was placed under tremendous pressure," one of the journalists said. "Our driver and a human rights lawyer, Tang Jingling, who helped us were also detained by security officers from one day to six days respectively."

Local authorities also reportedly arranged an interview for journalists and forced three interviewees with knowledge of Li's case to accept the interview given under duress, which was recorded by the local propaganda department.

"The authority recording the 'interview' was aimed at undermining the credibility of the news report," Mak Yin-ting, Chairperson of the HKJA said.

Kevin Lau, the Editor-in-Chief of Ming Pao, also condemns the security authority's abuse of power in a public statement, "It is quite rare for government to stage an interview for the benefit of the media. The detaining and interrogation of journalists clearly jeopardizes press freedom and infringes upon journalists' safety."

The IFJ urges Peng Qinghua, Director of the Chinese Liaison Office of Hong Kong, to file a complaint with the Hunan Security Bureau of China and demand the Government of Hunan make an official apology to journalists, and commit to ensuring the safety and rights of Hong Kong journalists when travelling and working in the Mainland.

We also urge Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao demand the Security Bureau of China and the Government of Henan thoroughly investigate this case and publicly report its findings.

On June 6, IFJ reported that blind activist Li Wangyang, 62, was found dead in Daxiang District people's hospital in Shaoyang City, Hunan province, China, after he accepted a interview with Hong Kong Cable Television, which aired June 2. Since this time, many media personnel, interview subjects and Hong Kong activists have been harassed, followed or detained by security officers in Shaoyang City. Shaoyang authorities deny the claims. According to Article 6 of China's Regulations on Reporting Activities in Mainland by Hong Kong and Macau journalists, journalists can only conduct interviews when an interviewee gives consent.

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