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China 30 November 2006

Journalist reportedly arrested for "illegal interviews" with coal miners after accident

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Chinese government to reveal the names of the journalist and his three assistants from the southern Guizhou province who were reportedly arrested in Linfen, in the central province of Shanxi, on 3 November for investigating an explosion at the Luweitan coal mine. The organisation also asked the authorities to explain why they were arrested.

“If they are still being held for investigating a mine accident, they must freed immediately,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A charge of ‘illegal interviews’ is unacceptable.”

The organisation pointed out that, when visiting the families of the victims of a mine accident in Shanxi province in January 2005, a very moved Prime Minister Wen Jiabao promised to improve conditions in the mines and encouraged the media to cover these tragedies.

At total of 114 miners have died in four serious accidents in Shanxi coal mines since the start of November. Twenty-four of them were killed by an explosion at the Luweitan mine caused by a ventilation system failure that allowed gas to accumulate.

The journalist and three assistants who were arrested worked for the Beijing-based magazine Guancha Zhoukan, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post daily reported, citing the Hong Kong-based Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. The information has not been confirmed.

The mortality rate for miners in China ranges from 5 per million tonnes of extracted coal in the large mines to 9.1 in the small ones, compared with a rate of 0.5 in India (Wright, 2004, Cambridge University Press). As mine accidents in China are often linked to management dishonesty and corruption, it is essential that journalists should be free to investigate them.

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