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IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign bulletin - September 2009

(IFJ/IFEX) - September 8, 2009 - IFJ Asia-Pacific launches a monthly e-bulletin about its Press Freedom in China Campaign:

In this bulletin:

1. Online Writer Released from Detention
2. New Bans Gag Public Interest Stories
3. Foreign Correspondents Report Heavy Police Interference
4. IFJ Complains to Vice President about Police Abuse
5. Provinces Take Media Control into Own Hands
6. Journalists Detained in an Effort to Prevent Trial Reporting
7. Self-Assessment Reports Promote Self-Censorship
8. Reporter Knocked Unconscious by Security Personnel

1. Online Writer Released from Detention

The founder of Uyghur Online website www.uighurbiz.cn, Ilham Tohti, 39, was reported released on August 23 after disappearing from his home in Beijing on July 7. On the night of his disappearance, Tohti – a professor at the Central National University – told friends he was concerned for his safety after receiving a "formal notice" from local authorities about articles he posted online in relation to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Chairman's handling of riots in Urumqi in early July. Tohti was reported to have been released by authorities but without any explanation given for his detention. He was permitted to return to his family subject to the right of authorities to question him at any time, the friend said. Uyghur Online is reported to be accessible again, after being shut down in early July.

2. New Bans Gag Public Interest Stories

Bans issued by the Central Propaganda Department against reporting on issues of public interest are an effort to control media content in the lead-up to China's National Day on October 1, the IFJ reports. In recent weeks, all media outlets were issued with a ban on reporting events related to the lead poisoning of thousands of children in Huana, Shanxi and Yunan provinces in August and early September, including protests outside government offices. A ban was also ordered on reporting of a riot of more than 10,000 villagers in Fengwei town, Quanzhou, Fujian Province, on September 1, which was sparked by industrial contamination of drinking water. The Propaganda Department also ordered all media to use only information from the State-owned Xinhua news agency regarding the reported arrival of up to 30,000 Burmese refugees at Konkan in south-western Yunan province. Foreign journalists were also denied entry to the refugee camps, the BBC reported. An order to use only Xinhua information was also issued in regard to reporting a recent visit by Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to Taiwan.

3. Foreign Correspondents Report Heavy Police Interference

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China reported a series of police attacks on foreign journalists reporting on riots in Xinjiang province and the poisoning of children in Shanxi province in the past two weeks. Police confiscated the equipment of Associated Press (AP) photographer Andy Wong and AP TV producers David Wivell and producer Isolda Morillo as they reported on security forces clashing with hundreds of ethnic Han people outside Communist Party offices in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on September 4. Police also reportedly took the equipment of an APTN camera crew covering ongoing protests on the following day. Meanwhile, on August 19, an AP photographer and reporter and an APTN crew were reportedly followed by local government officials in Fengxiang county, Shaanxi Province, while trying to conduct interviews with parents of children hospitalised for lead poisoning. Police reportedly directed media to a hospital administrative office. In the absence of a promised spokesperson, the journalists entered a ward and were told to leave. A local source told the IFJ the same officials visited the APTN crew at their hotel and warned them not to report on the health crisis. The journalists said police continued to harass them while they were in the county by tracing their movements and listening to their interviews.

4. IFJ Complains to Vice President About Police Abuse

The IFJ presented a letter to China's Vice-President, Xi Jinping, and other government leaders condemning the actions of police in three incidents in Xinjiang and Sichuan provinces in which journalists and media workers were prevented from doing their work. Three Hong Kong media workers were injured after police chased and detained them for reporting on police use of tear gas to control protesters in Urumqi. According to local sources, police handcuffed and detained journalist Lam Tsz-ho and cameraman Lau Wing-chuan, of Television Broadcast (TVB), as well as Now Television cameraman Lam Chun-wai. Lam Tsz-ho told the IFJ, "I was beaten with a baton on my shoulder and punched and kicked on my knee and lower back. My cameraman was also beaten all over his body with a baton." Despite identifying their status as media professionals, the police reportedly held the journalists for three hours and deleted some of their camera footage. On 6 September, another five Hong Kong journalists were also detained and escorted back to their hotel when they tried to interview people who had been tear-gassed. The IFJ called for an immediate investigation into the police actions, noting they violated China's stated commitment to its National Human Rights Action Plan (2009-2010).

5. Provinces Take Media Control into Own Hands

The IFJ called on China's Central Government and Central Propaganda Department to ensure consistent country-wide application of constitutionally guaranteed rights of the media to access and report on issues of public interest, following increased provincial interference in media work. In Guanxi Province on August 25, the deputy editor of the Nanning-based Nanguo Morning Post, Liu Yuan, 35, was dismissed and a senior editor at Modern Life Daily received a suspension order from the newspaper management for reporting on the murder of a boy on August 4. The harsh treatment of both journalists was reportedly the result of increased pressure on the publications by the Guanxi propaganda department, which subsequently sought a total ban on reporting the case despite widespread public interest, including at the State-owned Xinhua news agency. A BBC journalist also reported Baoji government officials in Shanxi province refusing to allow foreign and local journalists access to a village where reported lead poisoning of children had occurred. The journalist said he was refused access despite obtaining Foreign Ministry permission.

6. Journalists Detained in Effort to Prevent Trial Reporting

Two Beijing-based Hong Kong journalists were held without charge in a Sichuan hotel on August 12 in what local police initially said was a search for illegal substances. The IFJ subsequently sent an open letter to China's Vice President, Xi Jinping, and other government leaders on August 17 expressing concern that the police investigation was intended to prevent the journalists from reporting on the trial of a poet, writer and environmental activist accused of subverting state power. The IFJ noted that the police failed to produce identity cards or a search warrant to justify the detention, in violation of requirements under sections 110 and 111 of Chapter 5 of the Criminal Procedure Law. Police deleted images of the search from the journalists' cameras. The journalists filed a complaint to the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council. They were released after two hours but were unable to observe Tan's court case.

7. Self-Assessment Reports Promote Self-Censorship

Two journalists were reportedly asked to file self-assessment reports to explain the reasons for their coverage of a rape case in Beijing on August 6, in what the IFJ described as an attempt to enforce self-censorship. A journalist, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the IFJ that two the journalists and their supervisors at Southern Weekend were reportedly asked by the newspaper's chief editor to file self-critical assessments after publishing information about the case in which police were alleged to be involved. The journalists were required to explain the relevance of their professional work to China and the Communist Party. The IFJ also received local information that soon after the news report was published, the article was deleted from the Southern Weekend website and the Central Propaganda Department issued an order to all media outlets banning reporting on the case.

8. Reporter Knocked Unconscious by Security Personnel

Guangzhou Daily reporter Liu Manyuan was seriously hurt after security personnel from Humen Town in Donnguan, Guangdong Province, attacked him for taking photographs of a body found in a house on August 31. It was reported that two security personnel blocked Liu from taking photographs and chased and attacked him. Liu reportedly lost consciousness and was hospitalised with serious injuries. The Guangzhou Daily condemned the attack while the Vice Party Secretary of Guangdong Province reportedly ordered the assailants to be given heavy penalties.

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