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China 5 December 2005

Journalist Shi Tao does forced labour while Prime Minister Wen Jiabao signs contracts in France

As Chinese Prime Minister Wen continued a four-day visit to France that began yesterday, Reporters Without Borders today said it has confirmed that journalist Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year-prison sentence, is having to do forced labour and he is suffering from respiratory problems and a skin inflammation.

Shi, who was convicted of “illegally divulging state secrets abroad” on the basis of information provided by Yahoo!, is being forced to work without pay in a jewellery factory attached to Chishan prison in Hunan province, to which he was transferred on 5 September after being held for several months in Taiyuan, in Shanxi province, south-west of Beijing.

According to his family, many of the inmates have pneumonia or other respiratory ailments because of the products used in the cutting and polishing of the jewels and the dust created. The jewellery is sold by the prison authorities. Shi’s mother is also worried about this health because he has had ulcer and heart problems for several years.

The prison, located on an island in the middle of Lake Dongting, near the town of Yuanjiang, is a top-security centre reserved for convicts serving at sentences of at least 10 years. According Chinese Rights Defenders Network, most of the inmates are organised crime members, political prisoners and followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Reporters Without Borders calls on the French authorities to intercede on Shi’s behalf. “We must not let the economic and scientific partnership between France and China hide Beijing’s repressive policies towards free expression,” the organisation said. “We believe that France must place stress on the need to release prisoners of conscience in the course of its talks with the Chinese authorities.”

At least 32 journalists and 62 cyberdissidents are currently in prison in China.

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