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IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin - April 2010

(IFJ/IFEX) - April 8, 2010. In this bulletin:

1. All Quiet on Google's Withdrawal
2. Reports on Vaccine Scandal Banned
3. Trial of Toxic Milk Campaigner Closed to Media
4. Reporting on Rio Tinto Trial Prohibited
5. Online Reports on Aviation Policy Restricted
6. Foreign Journalists' Emails Hacked
7. FCCC Website Targeted in Cyber Attack
8. Ban on Reporting Harassment of Journalist
9. Journalist Intercepted While Reporting Fire
10. Journalist Harassed at Provincial University
11. Authorities Censor Tibet Reporting by Foreign Media

1. All Quiet on Google's Withdrawal

On March 23, the day Google withdrew its search engine from mainland China, the Central Propaganda Department ordered all media to source information about the decision only from the state-owned Xinhua News Agency. Google's shift to Hong Kong came after dozens of people involved in human rights advocacy in China, including people based in the United States, China and Europe, reported their gmail accounts had been accessed by unknown third parties. The directive also stated that any material including text and images supporting Google's position must be removed from the internet. On March 26, the Chongqing Evening Post was ordered to delete an article lamenting Google's withdrawal. A range of China-based internet companies including Tom.com have since discontinued business with Google. A US-based provider, GoDaddy, told a US congressional hearing that it had experienced several cyber attacks and would stop selling websites with Chinese domain names after Chinese authorities demanded information on the people who were to be in charge of the sites.

2. Reports on Vaccine Scandal Banned

All reports related to the distribution of spoiled vaccines in Shanxi province were ordered to be deleted by China's State Council Internet Propaganda Administrative Bureau on March 17. The order followed an article in the China Economic Times on the same day that defective vaccines had killed or disabled almost 100 children. On March 21, the Central Propaganda Department issued a directive to all media outlets demanding that they cite only Xinhua News Agency on the issue. The original report in the China Economic Times alleged that an organisation working for the Shanxi health authorities had stored the vaccines improperly, and that their exposure to high temperatures had made them poisonous. The report alleged that a senior manager at the organisation had engaged in corruption by buying biological products from a company of which he is a director. The journalist who broke the story, the families of victims and former provincial health officials received threats from an unidentified source, warning them not to give interviews about the matter.

3. Trial of Toxic Milk Campaigner Closed to Media

On March 30, the Central Propaganda Department banned reporting on the trial of public health campaigner Zhao Lianhai. Media personnel were also barred from entering the Daxing District Court of Beijing where the trial was held. Zhao, 38, was charged with "inciting social disorder" for his involvement in organising public protests, after his child was among about 300,000 children poisoned by melamine-contaminated milk powder in 2008. Zhao set up a website and organised other victims' families to seek compensation and free medical care from the government. He was detained and charged in November 2009 when he attempted to hold a protest coinciding with a visit to China by United States President Barack Obama. Under China's criminal law, the maximum penalty for inciting social disorder is five years' jail.

4. Reporting on Rio Tinto Trial Prohibited

On March 22, the Central Propaganda Department issued a total reporting ban on the trial of four Rio Tinto employees charged with commercial espionage and bribery. While the Shanghai judiciary department allowed foreign media to enter a separate room inside the court building in order to hear the judge's verdict, journalists complained that they were unable to see four defendants clearly. The four defendants were sentenced to between seven and 10 years' jail on March 29.

5. Online Reports on Aviation Policy Restricted

The State Council's Internet Propaganda Administrative Bureau issued an order on March 15 stating that no negative coverage of the latest Civil Aviation Administration policy be published on the internet. Earlier that day, the Minister for the Civil Aviation Administrative Bureau, Li Jiaxiang, announced that public protesting of delays on civil air routes would result in the closure of those routes for almost 12 months. The authorities demanded all web managers delete any negative information about this policy.

6. Foreign Journalists' Emails Hacked

During March, the Yahoo email accounts of 10 Beijing-based foreign journalists and the IFJ's Hong Kong-based China coordinator were infiltrated, with private emails forwarded to unknown people. Staff from Yahoo Hong Kong reportedly contacted some of the affected journalists to alert them to unusual movement in their accounts but did not provide further details. The IFJ understands the journalists do not know how their accounts were hacked, or by whom. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) issued a statement on March 31 saying it had confirmed eight cases in recent weeks in which the Yahoo accounts of China and Taiwan-based journalists had been hacked, with several accounts automatically disabled by Yahoo on March 25. The IFJ called on China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to assist Yahoo in conducting a thorough investigation. The FCCC reminded all members that email accounts are an insecure communication tool throughout China, and offered tips on creating strong passwords at http://www.fccchina.org/2010/03/31/email-security-problems-spread-to-yahoo-accounts/

7. FCCC Website Targeted in Cyber Attack

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) temporarily deactivated its website on April 2 following a series of service-denial cyber attacks, apparently originating from computers in China and the United States. Denial-of-service attacks can be intentionally generated by multiple users simultaneously connecting to a site, thus overwhelming its host server's capacity. "We do not know who is behind these attacks or what their motivation is," the FCCC said in a statement. The FCCC's membership comprises many foreign correspondents working in the country, though it is not officially recognised by China's government.

8. Ban on Reporting Harassment of Journalist

In early March, China's Central and provincial propaganda departments banned media reporting on any matter related to threats made by Hubei governor Li Hongzhong against a Beijing Times reporter on March 7. The order bans all media reporting and online discussion about an incident in which Li refused to answer the journalist's question, demanded the name of her employer, confiscated her recording device and threatened to contact her boss. The journalist had reportedly asked Li about a case in Hubei in May 2009, in which a hotel worker allegedly murdered a police officer. The altercation was widely reported in newspapers across China, though not in the Communist Party-owned En Shi newspaper in Hubei. The order forced all newspapers to remove any articles related to the incident from their websites and public discussion forums. Several restrictions related to the murder case were issued in May 2009. At the time, the orders banned independent reporting of the case as well as reports of violent interactions between local government officials and journalists attempting to report on the case.

9. Journalists Intercepted While Reporting Fire

Two journalists were reportedly physically assaulted by security guards while trying to report on a fire at the Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium in Beijing on March 23. According to the Jinghua Times, for whom one of the women journalists worked, a guard interrupted one of the women while she was taking photos and called for his colleague to take her away. When the other journalist tried to stop him, both were dragged away from the building by six men. One of the journalists reported that guards tried to snatch her mobile phone when she tried to call for help. The guards reportedly claimed the journalists were being removed for their safety. The gymnasium's management said it had dismissed the security guards and it was willing to offer an apology and compensation to the journalists.

10. Journalist Harassed at Provincial University

A Chang Jiang Commercial News journalist was reportedly harassed at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan on April 1 while on assignment for an investigative story. The woman was reportedly confronted by two men, both of whom falsely identified themselves as university officials. The first, calling himself Chen, verbally abused her and then drove his car into her when she tried to detain him, injuring her leg. A second man claiming to be the university's Director of Human Relations and identifying himself as Peng threatened to contact the journalist's editor. The next day, the university's managing director offered an apology and compensation to the injured journalist. The director also said Chen was the chairman of a union and headed a section of the school. He had been removed from his role at the union, the director said. Peng was reportedly a driver with a private company and had no relationship with the university.

11. Authorities Censor Foreign Journalists in Tibet

Foreign journalists seeking to report on the second anniversary of the 2008 Tibetan unrest faced severe restrictions on their movements during a visit arranged by China's authorities to the area in early March. Several journalists complained that they were trailed by plain-clothes police officers who prevented them from conducting interviews. They were also prevented from photographing the military. An officer reportedly demanded one photographer delete the images from his camera.

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