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Journalists banned from reporting on trial of public health campaigner

(IFJ/IFEX) - March 31, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned that China's Central Propaganda Department banned media reporting on the trial of public health campaigner Zhao Lianhai in Daxing District Court, Beijing, on March 30.

It further prevented media personnel from attending the trial of Zhao, 38, who was charged in November with inciting social disorder for his alleged involvement in organising public protests from September 2008 to 2009.

After Zhao's child was among 300,000 victims affected by contaminated milk powder in 2008, he set up a website on the public health crisis and organised the victims' families to seek compensation and free medical care.

He was detained and charged by police when he attempted to organise a public protest during a visit by United States President Barack Obama to China in November 2009.

"Zhao's case is of significant public interest in China, and efforts to prevent news reporting on his trial is yet another example of China failing to honour its promise to interact cooperatively with independent media in the spirit of promoting open and transparent governance," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

Outside the courtroom, Zhao's lawyer, Li Fangping, condemned the decision to hold the trial in a closed court. He said unfounded allegations that Zhao had been involved in a rape case were raised by a court official in order to forbid members of the public, including Zhao's wife and journalists, from entering the court room.

"We cannot write a word about Zhao's case. It is the same as the day when he was detained by police during US President Obama's visit to China last year," a local journalist told the IFJ.

Under China's criminal law, the maximum penalty for inciting social disorder is five years' jail.

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