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Pressures weaken public interest reporting

(IFJ/IFEX) - May 26, 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned that journalists and media outlets in China are not reporting on harassment of human rights lawyers by the government-run Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice and the Beijing Lawyers' Association due to fear of potential repercussions from China's authorities.

A mainland journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, told the IFJ that no media outlet had reported on any of the 22 cases of human rights lawyers being harassed after they alleged malpractice by the Beijing Lawyers' Association and the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice.

"The failure of local media to report on the concerns of lawyers acting in human rights cases highlights the powerful way in which official attempts to suppress reporting on matters of public interest has an effect even without official restrictions," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

The lawyers were reportedly warned their licences would be suspended by the end of May if they continued to assist victims of human rights abuses or took up sensitive cases related to Tibet, freedom of expression and religion, and the government's alleged illegal repossession of land, the journalist said.

"The suppression of news of human rights lawyers is just like the June 4 Tiananmen Massacre. Both of them are taboo for the Central Government," the journalist said.

The accusations against the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice and the Beijing Lawyers' Association include allegations that the organisations instructed law firms to rescind employment contracts of lawyers involved in human rights cases against the Chinese authorities.

Jiang Tianyong, one of the targeted lawyers, told the IFJ that two lawyers had been brutally bashed by police officials in the past few months. "We have received various kinds of harassment since February," Jiang said.

"Journalists worldwide are obliged by their professional duties to research and report on allegations of malpractice by any organisation or authority, including government bodies. China is no exception," White said.

"China's commitment to greater transparency and respect for the public's right to know is clearly stated in the preamble of the Human Rights Action Plan of China 2009-2010. Until journalists are able to report freely without fear of ramifications, this is yet another empty promise."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

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