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Blanket bans cloak reports of deaths, protests and explosions

(IFJ/IFEX) - May 30, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that the Central Propaganda Department in China has banned reports of protests and explosions in different areas of China in recent days.

The first relates to the May 10 death of Mergen, an organiser of the Mongolian herders of Right Ujimchin Banner in Southern (Inner) Mongolia, who was killed when he was part of a group attempting to block a coal hauling truck heading into the herders' grasslands at Ujimchin, in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) reported that Mergen's body was dragged under the wheels of the truck for 150 metres and then repeatedly struck by other trucks in the incident.

The death promptly heightened local frustrations against mining companies and their employees who are working in the Southern Mongolian grasslands. Protests by locals began on May 23 and numbers at the demonstrations grew quickly.

The autonomous government of Inner Mongolia promptly began censoring reports or information connected to the death or the subsequent protests, the SMHRIC reported. Bloggers were unable to discuss the death in chat rooms and on other social networking services. Media barely reported the incident or its aftermath. Schools were under heavy supervision by police and students were instructed by the authorities not to leave campus.

A peaceful protest in the Inner Mongolian city of Xilinhot on May 27 saw thousands of people, including a great number of students, gather. Many were taken away by police or military officers. Information on the protest was banned by the provincial and Central propaganda departments. Media outlets were ordered to refer to government news agency Xinhua if they wished to report on the events and all related news and information was deleted from all online sources.

Guardian reporter Jonathan Watts was blocked from entering the vicinity of the protest by local police. "Special circumstances. You're not allowed in. It's not safe," said an officer, according to the May 27 report on http://www.guardian.co.uk . At 4.30 a.m. the following morning, the journalist was woken by two plain clothes police officers who entered his hotel room and attempted to interrogate him.

Similar non-publication orders and bans were issued on May 26 after a series of explosions at government buildings in Fuzhou, Jiangxi province in China's south-east.

Three government buildings, including the procuratorate building, in Linchun District, Fuzhou, were shaken by consecutive explosions which killed at least three people, including the person allegedly responsible for the attack, farmer Qian Mingqi. He had apparently become frustrated after being forced to leave his land with little compensation, according to reports by Hong Kong Cable Television.

The Central Propaganda Department responded by issuing an order to all media demanding that organisations not send any journalist to the vicinity of the explosion and should instead rely on Xinhua reports.

"Concealing information that has implications for public safety is an irresponsible act by Chinese authorities," the IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"The IFJ urges China's central authorities to abandon the use of these restrictions and allow reporting of matters of public interest."

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