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China 12 May 2009

Foreign reporters prevented from working in Sichuan a year after earthquake

Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the Chinese government’s behaviour towards the international media on the first anniversary of an earthquake in Sichuan province that killed tens of thousands.

Foreign reporters are being prevented from covering the relief work and reconstruction in the areas hit by the quake. Many cases of harassment, threats or violence have been reported. Officials have accused foreign journalists of being “trouble-makers.”

“Why are the authorities now preventing journalists from covering the Sichuan earthquake anniversary after giving China’s 700-odd accredited foreign reporters the go-ahead in 2007 to operate freely throughout the country except Tibet?” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the authorities to stop obstructing the work of foreign journalists in Sichuan and to let them talk to victims and the relatives of those who died.”

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC), which the government regards as an “illegal organisation,” warned its members on 6 May that the situation was becoming “more volatile” in Sichuan and advised “extra caution” when visiting the region.

A Finnish TV crew was pushed and shoved by 10 civilian security officials in the city of Fuxin and some of its equipment was damaged. “It was very violent,” said reporter Katri Makkonen.

A reporter with the London-based Financial Times newspaper was interviewing the parents of children killed in the earthquake in Fuxin when a man tried to snatch his camera and punched his arm, and then he and his crew were surrounded by a dozen men as they retreated towards their car. Radio France’s China correspondent, Dominique André, found herself surrounded by four police trucks and about 15 to 20 men in uniform in the village of Juyuan before she had even begun interviewing people. “It is the first time that I have been physically stopped from working - without violence, but firmly," she told AFP. “The only thing I did wrong was being there.”

An AFP crew was ordered to leave the village of Wufu on 6 May despite previously being told they would work there. Two days later, the crew was chased out of the village of Juyuan. And yesterday, the crew was forced to leave a third quake-hit locality.

On 6 May, the deputy chief of the Sichuan propaganda department, Hou Xiongfei, accused some western journalists of trying to stir up trouble. “They are not going to the disaster area to report, but are inciting the crowds, asking people to organise [against the government]," he claimed.

The Chinese media have meanwhile been churning out positive reports about the heroic survivors and reconstruction.

Cyber-dissident Huang Qi has been detained in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu since 10 June 2008 for posting articles on his website 64Tianwang (www.64tianwang.com) about the humanitarian situation in the province after the earthquake and how international aid was mismanaged by the local authorities.




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