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Information about historic murder trial tightly controlled by Chinese authorities

(RSF/IFEX) - 19.08.2012 - Reporters Without Borders condemns the complete control exercised by Beijing over the murder trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of the disgraced senior Communist Party official Bo Xilai, whose outcome is due to be announced on 20 August.

"The Chinese people are deprived of access to any independent information about what now appears to be one of the biggest political scandals of the decade," the press freedom organization said.

"Aware of the huge media interest in Gu Kailai's trial, the authorities are cleverly using a combination of straightforward censorship and information management, confirming that they have become masters of this game. Thus they ensure that only the official version emerges and any criticism is contained, with no fallout on the party as a whole as it prepares for its 18th Congress."

The trial of Gu and her alleged associates opened in the eastern city of Hefei on 9 August. The hearing was held in camera: no local or international media were allowed to attend. When it opened, the main newspapers were ordered not to mention the subject. On the second day, the official New China News Agency began publishing reports, the only source that media organizations were allowed to use.

Foreign correspondents were accommodated in the Swan Lake Hotel, next door to the law courts, where they have been kept under police supervision. A journalist from Hong Kong was violently beaten by a plainclothes officer as he tried to film a demonstrator outside the court. The Hong Kong Journalists Association made an official protest but the Chinese authorities have offered no apology.

Censorship was also tightened on the Internet, where the names of the main protagonists, Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai and Neil Heywood, were filtered out. However, a few Internet users were able to circumvent the censors, in particular on micro blogging sites. The French news agency Agence France-Presse quoted someone called A'bang-Kunshou as denouncing "a political trial and a trial for the privileged", and Ran Ran Shou who said "the Hefei trial is a sham".

Bo Xilai was the Communist Party chief of Chongqing city in Sichuan province and a member of the Politburo. His wife is accused of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood by poisoning him with arsenic in November last year. Gu, 53, is a former prominent international lawyer. Her husband has been held incommunicado and his fate is not known. His disgrace marked a turning point in the power struggle within the party leadership, which is due to be replaced at the 18th Congress in October.

China is ranked 174th of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders and is classified as an "Internet enemy" by the organization.

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