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Strings attached to release of detained writer

(IFJ/IFEX) - September 20, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes the release of an unlawfully detained journalist who exposed alleged government wrongdoing around the construction of a dam more than 50 years ago.

Xie Chaoping, 55, formerly with the Procuratorial Daily, a newspaper under direct control of the Procurator of the People's Republic of China, was detained on August 19 by security officers of Weinan, Shaanxi, accused of illegal publication of a book for commercial sale. His case was then passed to the Procuratory Department on September 13 for investigation.

Xie was released by the department on September 17 as there was insufficient evidence to support the allegation. On the same day, the security bureau presented two flight tickets to Xie and his wife and demanded that they immediately leave Shaanxi.

"I'm still on bail though I haven't committed any illegal commercial activities," Xie told IFJ sources.

Under the Criminal Procedure Law, a suspect's freedom of movement is restricted for up to one year. Xie said that during his imprisonment he was forced to work at least five hours a day, after which he was interrogated for up to seven hours. In one case, the head of the prosecution unit interrogated him from midnight until 3am.

"The IFJ welcomes the release of Xie, but remains concerned about the conditions of his release, as well as the sub-standard conditions of his detention, including interrogation," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

"The publisher of Xie's book has confirmed that the book was to be published at Xie's expense, and was not to be released for commercial sale. The charge against Xie is therefore unfounded."

Zhao Shun, a worker at a printing company at Langfang City, Hebei Province, which printed Xie's book, was detained on September 15 by Weinan security officers. No information was provided about the detention.

Xie's book, The Great Migration, was the result of three years' work interviewing victims of Sanmenxia Dam. The book chronicles farmers' trust of the then Weinan Government, which persuaded them to leave their homelands to allow the Central Government to build the dam in the 1950s. The book alleges the local government cheated the farmers, depriving them of land and compensation allocated to them by the Central Government.

In the early hours of June 27, copies of the book were confiscated by the Weinan Government's cultural department. The Weinan security bureau searched the houses of interviewees named in the book. A total of more than 10,000 copies of the book have been confiscated.

"Article 35 of China's Constitution and the Regulation on the Administration of Publication enshrine freedom of publication, including the right to distribute their property, to China's citizens," White said.

The IFJ urges the Procuratory Department and Security Bureau of Weinan to remove restrictions on Xie's release and unconditionally release Zhao. It calls on the Central Government to conduct a thorough investigation into their unlawful detention.

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