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China condemned for depriving people of their right to know

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the authorities of China for censoring reports of a car accident which killed five people and injured dozens in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

On October 28, a jeep crashed into the Jinshui Bridge outside the southern gate of the Forbidden City and burst into flames, killing five people and injuring 38, including a number of tourists. According to overseas and Hong Kong media reports, the accident may have been a planned self-immolation. Reports said several Uyghurs were inside the car.

Police later issued a notice to all hotels in Beijing to look out for two Uyghurs who were residents of Pishan County and Shanshan County in Xinjiang Province. According to reports, one of the two was involved in some way in one of the deadly attacks in June in Shanshan County.

However, no relevant information was reported by China's state-owned media outlet, Xinhua News Agency. When journalists arrived, many were blocked by large numbers of uniformed policemen. Many journalists, including representatives of the BBC, AFP, RTHK, Commercial Radio of Hong Kong, TVB and Cable TV, were detained by policemen. Two AFP journalists were forced to delete the images from their cameras.

Many foreign journalists also found that internet service speeds suddenly slowed down after the incident.

"I started to send my file at 3pm but it didn't go till midnight," a journalist told the IFJ. "I know that quite a number of journalists had to use other channels to send information on this extraordinary event through."

Furthermore, all Mainland media received an order from the authorities right after the incident demanding that they only republish the report from Xinhua. The order said the report could not be published on the front page of a newspaper or a website, and that all relevant messages posted on the internet should be monitored and deleted if there they were sensitive, according to a report in Hong Kong-based newspaper Mingpao.

"Five people killed and 38 people injured is obviously a case of great public concern. People definitely have the right to know about it in order to protect themselves," the IFJ Asia-Pacific office said.

"According to the Regulations on Open Government Information, the Government has a duty to maintain and update information when it involves the vital interests of citizens in matters which need to be extensively known or participated in by the general public."

Unfortunately the Chinese authorities repeatedly violate their own rules when cases arise that are deemed to be sensitive.

"Slowing down the internet service in order to deter media from sending their reports, as well as blocking and detaining journalists, are their usual tactics," the IFJ Asia-Pacific office said.

We urge the Human Rights Council of the United Nation to act on their responsibility to demand that China respond to the escalating suppression of press freedom.

The Human Rights Council should also carefully consider China's application to become a member of the Council, remembering that China still has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed in 1998.

We also urge the Chinese authorities to cease any actions which suppress media freedom and urge the All Chinese Journalists Association to defend the media's rights by demanding the authorities respect media freedom.

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