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Government imposes media blackout on village protests

(IFJ/IFEX) - December 15, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the blocking of news reports of protests over a death in police custody in Wukan Village, Lufeng, in China's southern Guangdong Province.

On December 12, hundreds of police confronted thousands of villagers demonstrating against the death of a local villager and political interference in local elections. Although the story has been covered by the English-language edition of an official Chinese Communist Party newspaper, "Global Times", all Chinese-language reporting has been censored.

The demonstrators called on senior government officials to investigate the sudden death of villager Xue Jinbo, 42, on December 11. According to cable television news reports in Hong Kong, it is suspected that Xue was tortured to death.

Xue's daughter has said that upon examining Xue's body at the hospital, they found his body covered in bruises and one of his thumbs broken. According to "Global Times" English-language edition, Xue's family also reported that his nails were missing and several of his ribs were broken.

Xue and the other four people were taken away by local police on December 9, after they demonstrated against perceived political interference in village elections in September. Two days later, Xue's family was informed that he had died of a heart attack.

In response, thousands of villagers demonstrated and called on senior government officials to investigate Xue's death. They also complained about political interference in the election of village representatives, after 500 hectares of village land were sold to developers without any compensation being paid. Hundreds of policemen were sent to Wukan to prevent anyone from leaving the village.

"It is very distressing that all Chinese-language media outlets have been forbidden from reporting on these matters of great public interest," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"This decision by Chinese authorities clearly shows an intention to block this information from the majority of Chinese citizens, and undermines China's claims to support press freedom."

The tactic of censoring Chinese-language reports, while allowing English-language reporting, has been used a number of times by Chinese authorities. In April 2011, Global Times English-language service was allowed to report on the detention of dissident artist Ai Weiwei by Beijing police, and the sentencing of 2010 Nobel Peace Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, to 11 years imprisonment in 2009.

The IFJ urges the President of China Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to challenge the Central Propaganda Department and State Internet Information Office's heavy handed censorship of local media outlets and online news reporting, and allow the media greater freedom to report.

The IFJ also urges the international community to focus attention on recent events in Wukan, and push China's Government to provide a full and transparent explanation of the events surrounding Xue's death and allegations of interference in local elections.

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