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IFJ urges greater transparency from Xinjiang authorities

(IFJ/IFEX) - July 20, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urges the authorities of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to release all information and allow journalists to report on the latest deadly clash between policemen and rioters on July 18.

According to state-owned news agency Xinhua reports, a group of rioters carrying explosive devices and grenades stormed a police station in Hotan, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on July 18. A policeman, a security guard and two hostages were killed before armed police officers shot several of the individuals dead that afternoon. The reports did not mention the cause of the incident.

The number of deaths was increased to 14 on July 19, according to Global Times, the English-language sister website of People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China. The report also said regional information office chief Hou Hanmin reiterated concrete evidence had already indicated that it was an organised attack by well-armed terrorists.

"The assault was clearly targeted. The attackers hurt two people with knives in nearby government offices and headed to the police station right after that. . . . They took hostages during their attack so as to raise tensions."

In contrast to the reports, the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress said the attack was in retaliation to police attempts to clampdown on a peaceful demonstration outside a building.

In a statement, the Congress said that more than 100 local Uyghurs peacefully gathered to protest a police crackdown imposed in the Nurbagh area in place for the last two weeks.

"Demonstrators gathered and demanded to know the whereabouts of relatives who had gone missing into police custody," the statement said.

"Police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing at least 20 people."

Another 12 people were injured seriously and more than 70 people were arrested, the statement said.

All mainland media organisations including media in Xinjiang are required to republish the Xinhua or Global Times reports. No independent news reports are allowed.

"We are deeply concerned that the media is restricted from independently reporting the details of a violent incident - a matter which is obviously important for people to hear about," the IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"The IFJ urges the authorities of Xinjiang to allow media to freely report issues of urgent public concern."

Xinjiang authorities ordered a blackout of all electronic media and restricted all other media reports after a deadly riot erupted on July 5, 2009. Official reports said that a total of 197 people, mostly of Han ethnicity, were killed and 1,600 injured.

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

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