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Propaganda department censors two sensitive news stories

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the orders issued by the Propaganda department to Chinese news media and news websites to censor reports about a corruption case with links to President Hu Jintao's son and about the closure of a human rights law centre.

"The Propaganda Department's readiness to suppress news is an insult to the rights of Chinese citizens to be informed about matters of public interest," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is time that the editorial independence of news media and websites was respected."

The corruption case concerns Nuctech, a Chinese company that is alleged to have bribed a Namibian company in order to sell airport security scanners to Namibia. Nuctech is part of the Chinese state-owned industrial group TsingHua TongFang and until 2007 was headed by President Hu's son Hu Haifeng.

The Communist Party Central Committee's Propaganda Department sent the following terse directive to websites: "Hu Haifeng, Namibia, corruption probe Namibia, corruption probe Yang Fan, corruption probe TsingHua TongFang, corruption probe South Africa: ensure that searches for these keywords yield no results."

The Chinese web portals Sina and Netease were forced to close down their news wires after posting reports about the corruption case, which at the same time was effectively censored by search engines.

The Chinese media have also refrained from reporting that the Namibian authorities said they would like to question President Hu's son in connection with the case.

A Chinese news website editor recently told Reporters Without Borders that the Information Bureau of the State Council (government) sends online media an updated list of banned search keywords almost every day.

Last week, China's censorship offices banned any coverage of the closure of the Gongmeng Legal Research Centre, which defended victims in many human rights cases, including the case of tainted baby formula. The centre was closed after a search by members of the Beijing Bureau of Civilian Affairs.

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