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China 27 February 2003

Foreign press banned from covering an earthquake in Xinjiang province

Chinese authorities, including the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (in north-western China), has refused to issue foreign press correspondents in China the authorisations required for them to cover the earthquake that has killed at least 250 people.

Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has asked Tang Jiaxuan-China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs-to intercede with competent authorities in order that foreign press representatives may be permitted to cover the humanitarian situation in Xinjiang without hindrance. "They cannot request international help on behalf of the victims and, at the same time, refuse to admit foreign journalists to the earthquake area. It is indecent," contended Robert Ménard, Secretary General of the organisation.

Several foreign press correspondents in Beijing-notably one with television network France 2-have confirmed to Reporters without Borders that the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has systematically refused to issue the authorisations that the journalists must have in order to report on the aftermath of the earthquake.

Despite the ban, some 10 journalists with various international media have entered the stricken province, at the risk of being arrested and expelled. The remaining international media have been restricted to using only photographs, or news received from the Chinese state media, including the national network, CCTV, the only TV whose members are entitled to enter the province. The network is mainly broadcasting pictures of Chinese soldiers helping thousands of victims. However, no independent observers have been admitted into the disaster areas and witnesses are disputing the official death toll.

The Chinese authorities have prohibited foreign journalists from travelling without authorisations to the provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet, where some separatist movements are known to exist. Since 11 September 2001, Beijing has intensified its crackdown against Uygur militants, who are described as "terrorists."

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