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Censorship risks fueling public unrest, says IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - June 20, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that ongoing media censorship in China could amplify public dissatisfaction and spark further unrest, following the so-called "jasmine" protests in the country.

The concerns come as the IFJ learned of new incidents of unrest in the past month. One of the latest disturbances began on June 10 in Guangzhou, where more than 1,000 people gathered on the street in Xintang, Zengcheng county, Guangdong province on June 10, after a number of street vendors from Sichuan province were detained by security officers.

State-owned news agency Global Times reported on June 13 that more than 1000 people gathered outside Xintang police station on June 11. Policemen were reportedly attacked and police cars damaged in the incident. However, according to some video-sharing websites and blogs the police station was set alight in the incident and the armed forces were ordered to rush into the county to quell the protest. Reports said that the protests also spread to other areas.

Mayor of Zengcheng Ye Niuping held a press conference to explain the incident on June 13, saying the row was sparked by a number of people with "ulterior motives", local reports said. Ye did not further elaborate on the reasons behind the incident. Local and Central propaganda departments ordered that media must only rely on government reports, but media outlets only reported Ye's statements. Three Guangzhou-based newspapers were ordered to print a "breaking" (special edition) newspaper to help the local government to ease public tensions.

A similar incident of public unrest took place on June 9 in Lichuan city, Hubei province, after former Communist Party secretary and Director of the Lichuan anti-corruption department Ran Jianxin was found dead on June 4. Ran was under investigation by the Badong Procuratorate for alleged corruption.

Following his death, Ran's family members immediately surrounded the department building in Badong village where numbers quickly grew. More than 20,000 people surrounded the government building and pelted rocks and garbage towards the armed police for five days, until June 9. Reports said that many people were beaten by security officers with electronic batons. People at the scene were afraid to express their view about the incident when non-Mainland journalists asked questions.

An oblique reference to these incidents was made by member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China and Central Committee and secretary of the CPC Central Committee's Commission for Political and Legal Affairs Zhou Yongkang on June 12. Zhou called on the country's police to better serve the people when he met the top 10 selected favourite police officers through a nationwide vote in Beijing, at a Communist Party of China meeting to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the party.

"China's authorities must understand that media censorship can work to inflame tensions, as people are suspicious of the veracity of information," the IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"Depriving people of accurate and up-to-date information about public unrest also risks placing members of the public in harm's way."

The IFJ urges the authorities of China to cease concealing the true picture of people's concerns about the operations of government, in order to prevent the triggering of further instability in the country.

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