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China bars all reporting on deadly explosion in Xinjiang

(IFJ/IFEX) - August 20, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned about a blanket ban by China's Central Propaganda Department on reporting by any media, including the state-owned Xinhua News Agency, of an explosion in western China that killed seven people.

The ban was issued immediately after the explosion in Aksu City, Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous Region, on August 19. Fourteen people were injured.

The order said media must not republish any reports by Xinhua News Agency or Xinjiang local media outlets, or compile individual reports.

Xinhua reported that the explosion was caused by a bomb, and that a suspect was arrested at the scene. "The motive behind what appears to be a bomb blast in China's western Xinjiang region is not yet clear," the Xinhua report said. "But many will suspect it is linked to the region's ongoing ethnic tension."

The IFJ urges China's authorities to lift the reporting ban immediately, as in times of crisis it is essential that the public is able to access updated and credible information.

"Blanket bans and restricting people's access to the news will allow rumour and hearsay to proliferate," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

"Distorted information risks inflaming already tense situations, which is partly what happened around the time of riots in the Uyghur Autonomous Region in 2009."

China's authorities are particularly sensitive about Xinjiang, where the Central Government alleges a separatist movement is on the rise. Almost 200 people were killed in July 2009 during riots sparked by ethnic tension.

In the wake of the unrest, many restrictive orders were issued by local authorities and the Central Propaganda Department. All internet and communication devices were shut down by the local government until mid-May 2010.

The IFJ reminds China's authorities that under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression includes the right for people to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.

"This latest in a long line of restrictive orders is a clear contravention of Article 35 of China's Constitution, which enshrines the right to freedom of expression," White said.

"The IFJ urges President Hu Jintao, Central Propaganda Department Director Liu Yunshan, and the Minister of General Administration of Press and Publication, Liu Binjie, to revoke the latest order without delay."

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