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Government prevents foreign journalists from contacting jailed activist's family and friends; website suspended in run up to Paralympics

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chinese government's attempts to prevent foreign journalists who will cover this month's Paralympics from getting in touch with those close to blind human rights lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng, who is serving a four-year sentence in Linyi prison, in Shandong province.

The phones of his relatives and the residents of his village have been blocked. His lawyer has also been affected by the measures.

His wife, Yuan Weijing, told Radio Free Asia: "My mobile phone has had no signal for the past 30 days. At first I tried turning it off and on again, but none of my calls got through. I tried to reach Guangcheng in prison on 2 September, but that call did not get through either. Now it is the same for the people living in the village. Their phone lines are not working."

Chen, who lost his sight at an early age, was convicted on trumped-up charges in 2006 after he tried to sue the authorities over a campaign of forced sterilisation and abortion.

His lawyer, Li Fangping, said he was not surprised to learn that the phones had been blocked. "Chen Guangcheng is visually-handicapped," he said. "His case interests the international community in the run-up to the Paralympics, so the government is using illegal methods to short-circuit Guangcheng's communications with the outside world."

In a separate development, Internet Rights Defence China ( ), a website that reports on actions taken by citizens to defend human rights, was closed by the authorities on 21 August 2008, apparently because it posted a poem by a former member of the Shanghai police who has become a human rights activist. According to the organisation CHRD, the site has previously been shut down several times since its creation in 2001.

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