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Authorities clamp down on information in Tibet, expel journalists in wake of eruption of violence

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

Information Clampdown in Tibet Fuels IFJ Concerns for Safety

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is extremely concerned for the welfare and safety of people in Tibet and neighbouring provinces who seek to disseminate information on the crisis in the region in the wake of an eruption of violence in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, on March 14.

The IFJ also supports the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, in calling on China's local and central authorities to allow people in Tibet to exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly.

Reports of the number of people killed as a result of the protests cannot be verified because of official restrictions on reporting from Tibet. Xinhua, China's state-run press agency, said at the weekend that at least 10 people were killed on March 14. However, a spokesman for Tibet's government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, said witnesses in Tibet had reported counting at least 80 bodies since violence broke out.

As China's authorities sought to restrict foreign and other journalists from traveling to Tibet at the weekend, the IFJ reminded the central Government of its commitment in early January to allow greater reporting access to foreign journalists in China for the Olympic Games in August.

According to reports in international media, foreign journalists were ordered out of the Tibetan parts of Gansu and Qinghai provinces on March 16 by police who told them it was for their own "safety".

The IFJ is informed that authorities in Tibet confiscated and deleted materials, including imagery and computer data, from some journalists.

While China's domestic media has reported on the protests, the content of local reports focuses on the actions of protesters rather than authorities. Meanwhile, media restrictions in mainland China include periodic blackouts of CNN and a block on YouTube after images of the protests were uploaded onto the website. Some news reports express concerns about monitoring or blocking of mobile phone signals.

The latest unrest in Tibet began as monks and activists staged protests in Lhasa and other regions on March 10, the anniversary of the 1959 uprising which China suppressed with force and which led Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to flee to exile in India.

"Suppression of free expression in China and Tibet and restrictions on matters of public concern brings to the fore the repeatedly expressed concerns of the IFJ and other press freedom groups about the reality of reporting on events in China," said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

"Any claim by China's authorities to support a free media must be delivered in good faith, and that means upholding the rights of journalists to report on all events and issues, and the rights of people to access information of importance to them."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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