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Seven men sentenced to jail over killing of investigative reporter covering illegal coal mine

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 28 June 2007 IFJ media release:

As Global Media Safety Crisis Deepens IFJ Welcomes Jailing of Chinese Boss Who Ordered Reporter Killed

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today welcomed the news that Chinese authorities have sentenced to jail seven men for the deadly beating of a Chinese investigative reporter outside of an illegal coal mine.

"This is a major blow to those who think they can order the killings of journalists with impunity," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "It is a welcome sign that governments are starting to take the media safety crisis seriously. With more than 100 journalists and media staff already killed this year this action is long overdue."

Reporter Lan Chengzhang died in early January after he was beaten outside the mine in Shanxi province. Hou Zhenrun, the head of the mine, was sentenced to life in prison for ordering the attack, according to press reports. Five men who carried out the assault were given sentences of between five to 15 years in jail and another man received a year sentence for harbouring the suspects.

The IFJ believes Chengzhang's killing was a brutal warning to other journalists who are probing and exposing the horrifying realities of the price being paid by workers in the dramatic expansion of the Chinese economy. He was the third journalist to be violently murdered in China within a year, said the IFJ.

At first officials tried to play down the incident, but after a public outcry in the region over the murder police started to take the investigation seriously. "We hope that this case is a sign that the Chinese government is ready to do more to protect independent, investigative journalism," said White.

The IFJ and the International News Safety Institute this week announced that unexplained and untimely deaths of media staff in 2007 have already reached three figures. The number of killings and deaths this year is expected to be significantly higher than the record level of 177 last year.

"Journalism is more powerful than ever, but the killers are more ruthless, more desperate and more daring," said White. "That's why every action to challenge impunity and to bring the killers to justice must be applauded."

The IFJ represents about 600,000 journalists in 115 countries worldwide.

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