Chinese authorities have imposed a news blackout after police brutally put down demonstrations in Dongzhou, a provincial village in south-eastern Guangdong province.
Reporters Without Borders has uncovered draconian measures put in place to prevent news filtering out about the 6 December incidents through the local and foreign media, as well as by censoring any message posted about it on the Internet.
Local sources said that a security perimeter of around 10 kms had been thrown around the village immediately afterwards and checkpoints set up on all roads leading to the village, effectively sealing it off.
"The authorities have completely distorted news about these events. It is a striking demonstration of China’s capacity to censure both the traditional media and the Internet, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
"We know from experience that when the government decides to deny media access to something, it is often to conceal abuses", it said.
The rare uncensored reports reaching foreign countries were obtained by telephoning directly to residents in the village. Local media received an order to only relay reports put out by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, particularly in relation to the number of people killed during the police crackdown: three according to official sources, more than 20, villagers have told the international press.
Chinese discussion forums were ordered to censor all messages posted about the events. When Reporters Without Borders tried posting the message (in Chinese) "People died in Dongzhou" it was automatically rejected by the main forums, including Xinhua (http://forum.xinhuanet.com/) and Sohu (http://news.sohu.com/comment.shtml).
Some Internet-users try to get round the censorship by posting messages in which they simply allude to repression against villagers in Dongzhou. One of the messages, seen by Reporters Without Borders, condemned Japanese massacres in Nanking in 1937, making implicit references to the current political context, saying that it was unacceptable to "fire on compatriots". In another forum, a message read, "We cannot mention the place, the date or who was responsible. But we know".
Reporters Without Borders also tried researching the word "Dongzhou" on the Chinese version of the search engine Yahoo ! (www.yahoo.com.cn). This produced no results, although it came up with 150,000 results on the Chinese version of Google (www.google.com/intl/zh-CN).
Trouble was sparked on 6 December when villagers demonstrated against the appropriation of land by the local authorities. Official sources have said there were more than 74,000 rebellions and "incidents involving the masses" in China last year.