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Government stifles querying of storm death toll

(IFJ/IFEX) - July 27, 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the Chinese Government's censoring of questions at a press conference on July 25 that related to the official death toll from the severe storm that hit the country's capital, Beijing, on Saturday July 21.

Beijing was hit by a severe storm which killed approximately 77 people and caused severe economic loss. The local government held a press conference the following day, during which it released the official death toll. However, it was believed by many that this figure significantly under-reported the true number of deceased.

On July 25, another press conference was held in Beijing by the government's Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters. According to Chinese newspaper Chang Jiang Daily, only media representatives from government-affiliated media organisations Xinhua, China Daily, China Central Television and Beijing Television were allowed to ask questions.

During the conference, none of the designated media queried the official death toll. It is reported that a journalist from China Central Television asked for the death toll number as the government officials were leaving, but received no response.

According to reports, one of the four media representatives admitted that they were ordered not to pose any questions at the press conference relating to the official death toll, with the explanation that this topic was "relatively sensitive".

Many Chinese netizens also complained that their online comments criticising the Beijing Government's poor management of the disaster were deleted from the internet. The report in Chang Jiang Daily was also removed from the paper's website.

According to a report by the Ming Pao Daily newspaper, its senior management was advised by the government not to repost the Chiang Jiang Daily article on their website.

The local Beijing government finally announced the updated death toll on July 25.

"The behaviour of China's government officials in this case clearly violates the country's Emergency Response Law, that provide that the local government has a duty to disseminate information to the public in order to protect people's safety ", IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"The media should not be forbidden from raising questions of great public concern, such as this, which serve to protect public safety."

The IFJ urges Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to ensure Chinese Government officials stop their practice of directing or censor media questions, and lift restrictions on the use of the internet to discuss and report on topics of public interest.

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