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IFJ concerned about serious restrictions placed on journalists reporting on Liu and Chen cases

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an 18 October 2010 IFJ open letter to Chinese authorities denouncing the restrictions imposed on journalists trying to report on the Liu Xiaobo and Chen Guangcheng cases:

President Hu Jintao
Premier Wen Jiabao
Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi
Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzh
Minister of Justice Wu Aiying
Director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Wang Guangya
Director of Taiwan Affairs Office Wang Yi

Dear Sirs, Madam,

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) writes to you to express our deep concerns about the serious restrictions placed on journalists and media workers operating in China whose activities are bound by the regulations for Foreign Correspondents.

Since October 8, the IFJ has received a number of complaints from journalists covering news of Nobel Peace Prize awardee, Liu Xiaobo. The complaints detail a series of acts of interference from Chinese authorities, including: preventing journalists from interviewing with Liu Xia, Liu's wife; blocking journalists from interviewing all representatives of various consulates in China; and forcing journalists to leave the area near the Jinzhou prison where Liu is held.

The IFJ has knowledge that Liu Xia was willing to be interviewed, but was placed under a form of house arrest by plain clothes police officers who denied her freedom to leave her home or have anyone visit her. The IFJ also understands that her cell phone was illegally shut down.

This is the latest in a string of incidents where individuals are prevented from making contact with the outside world, either locally in China or further afield. Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist defending women rights who was charged with "damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic” served his full sentence of four years and three months and was released on September 9, 2010. The IFJ is aware that since his release, Chen and his wife have been denied contact with the outside world against their wishes. A number of non-mainland journalists have been prevented by local authorities from contacting Chen despite repeated attempts to do so. The couples' telephones were shut down and they are now under house arrest.

According to Article 17 of Regulations of the PRC Concerning Reporting Activities of Permanent Offices of Foreign Media Organizations and Foreign Journalists, Article 6 of Regulations for Hong Kong and Macau Journalists and Article 7 of Regulations for Taiwan Journalists, it clearly states that when seeking to interview individuals in China, journalists and media workers are required only to obtain the prior consent of the interviewee.

The IFJ respectfully asserts that the refusal by authorities to allow media to report undermines the spirit and letter of the regulations. It is a violation of these rules to prevent people from being interviewed by the press after the individuals concerned have consented to be interviewed.

Furthermore, we also understand that all local media organisations were ordered by Foreign and Central Propaganda departments not to report the news relevant to the Liu Xiaobo case. Premier Wen Jiabao accepted an interview from CNN on October 3, but the departments ordered that this was not to be reported until more than a week later, on October 11. These orders constitute a breach of Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution which enshrines freedom of the press.

The IFJ welcomes Premier Wen Jiabao's repeated endorsements of the media's key role in overseeing the activities of public administration, particularly in his public speech in the Third Session of the 11th National People's Congress in Beijing on March 5, 2010.

“The transformation of government functions is incomplete, there is too much government interference in the micro-economy, and public administration and services are relatively weak,” Wen said in the speech. “Let the news media fully play their oversight role.”

However, the IFJ remains concerned that there is a significant gap between these words and the operations of China's authorities on a day to day basis. The open letter penned by a number of ex-officials including Li Rui, the former secretary of Mao Zedong and Zhong Peizhang, former news bureau chief of the Central Propaganda Department on October 1 calls for media censorship to be abolished on the basis that it is unconstitutional. The IFJ Asia-Pacific respectfully offers its expertise and advice to assist China's authorities in any way to ensure that the sentiments from Premier Wen are given greatest effect in China and its autonomous regions.

We sincerely urge President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzh to cease media censorship, investigate government interference in media rights infringements, and do their utmost to ensure that any interference that breaches the regulations of China is abandoned.

Furthermore, we urge President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi, Minister of Public Security, Minister of Justice, Director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs, and Director of Taiwan Affairs to investigate those who breached regulations by illegally detaining civilians Liu Xia and Chen Guangcheng and let them resume their constitutional rights of freedom of movement and freedom of expression.

Yours Sincerely,

Aidan White
General Secretary
International Federation of Journalists

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