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Teacher sentenced over Internet posting, reporters denied entry to village as heightened security measures impact press freedom

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns the one-year sentence to reeducation through labor imposed, according to Human Rights in China, on 23 July 2008 on Liu Shaokun, a teacher at Guanghan school in Deyang, Sichuan province, for posting photos of earthquake-damaged schools on the Internet.

Liu was charged with "disrupting the social order" on 25 June after visiting areas in Sichuan that were badly hit by the 12 May earthquake and taking photos of collapsed schools in order to expose "tofu" (poor quality) construction methods. Under Chinese law, officials can impose sentences of reeducation through work without holding a trial.

"Coming after the arrests of retired teacher Zheng Hongling and human rights activist Huang Qi for providing information about the Sichuan earthquake, Liu Shaokun's sentence is the latest example of post-quake repression," RSF said. "We call for the release of all three, as they are being detained solely because of what they reported."

RSF also deplores the fact that, on 30 July, Agence France Presse journalists were denied access to Shangkumuli, a village in the northwestern region of Xinjiang where a mosque was demolished. When AFP's journalists tried to enter the village, a policeman told them: "This area has been declared closed; you cannot enter." Both the Chinese foreign ministry and officials in Xinjiang refused to respond to AFP's attempts to find out the reasons for the ban.

The official reason for the mosque's demolition was "illegal religious activities" but it has been alleged that it was a reprisal for the lack of support for the Olympic Games among the local population. Xinjiang has a sizable Muslim minority.

"We condemn this latest violation of the rules adopted in 2007 which allow foreign journalists to have freedom of movement," RSF said.

RSF further condemns the increase in police controls in China that is evident from the decisions and statements being made by officials. The all-out security policy is having a negative impact on the work of foreign and Chinese journalists.

The government is seeking "perfect and total security" in Tibet during the Olympic Games in order to prevent any "conspiracy." All security personnel have been mobilised in Tibet and no leave will be given until the games are over. Security around important building and border controls have been stepped up. The authorities are also increasing cooperation with foreign police forces in order to "crush any separatist activities." In Beijing, the controls around prominent places are much stricter. All access routes to Tiananmen Square, including underground ones, are now under surveillance.

On 30 July, a leading US Republican senator, Sam Brownback of Kansas, accused the Chinese government of planning to spy on Olympic Games visitors at the hotels where they stay. He released copies of documents he said were sent to hotels outlining government instructions for installing Internet spying software and hardware by the end of the month. "This means journalists, athletes' families, human rights advocates and other visitors will be subjected to invasive intelligence gathering by the Chinese Public Security Bureau," Brownback said.

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