CHRD Urges Accountability & Lifting of Press Restrictions

The Chinese Government MustRespect Human Rights in Handling the Wenzhou TrainCrashReadthis statement on the CHRD website here  (Chinese Human Rights Defenders, August 3,2011) The Chinese government’s handling of the Wenzhouhigh-speed railway crash on July 23 has been marked bya profound lack of respect for human life and otherhuman rights abuses, including violations of therights of freedom of expression and opinion, freedomof association, and the right to know.   According to the official media agencyXinhua, as of August 3, 40 people were killed and 191injured as a result of one train crashing into the endof another train that had lost power and was stalledon the tracks in Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province. Manynetizens have challenged the official numbers, and forgood reason. A two-year-old girl was found alive inthe wreckage about 21 hours after the crash—hoursafter an official had announced there were no moresurvivors. Workers quicklytried to clear the scene, burying some of the wreckedtrain carriages. A mother who lost her young child inthe crash asked in anguish on a Chinese microbloggingsite why her child’s name did not appear on thegovernment’s list of fatalities, and wondered how manyother names were missing from the list. The actualnumber of fatalities and those injured remainsunclear.   The initial bold coverage of the crash by theChinese media has largely been brought to a halt by aJuly 29 directive from the Communist Party’s CentralPropaganda Department prohibiting any negative orcritical reporting of the accident or the government’shandling of the incident. Wang Qinglei, producer ofCCTV’s “24 Hours” news show, was fired on July 27 forhis critical reporting of the crash. Much of thediscussion about the crash on the Internet is now alsobeing censored. Some victims’ families have reportedlybeen threatened by officials to stop publiclyquestioning the government’s response, or they will bedenied compensation.   “The manner in which the Chinese governmenthas handled the accident—by suppressing information,censoring the media, prematurely halting rescueoperations, destroying evidence, and thwartingcitizens’ investigations—reveals this authoritarianregime’s utter disregard for human life andfundamental rights,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’sinternational director.     In light of widespread doubts about thegovernment’s initial hasty explanation for the crash—alightning strike—the government has now ordered aninvestigation of the accident, which will be conductedby the Ministry of Railways. Needless to say, thisraises serious conflict of interest concerns, and CHRDdoubts that this investigation will actually lead tothose responsible being held to account.  CHRDurges the Chinese government to do the following:  1.  The NationalPeople’s Congress Standing Committee should establisha special investigative committee to conduct animpartial investigation of the accident. Thiscommittee should provide timely disclosure to thepublic of the investigation’s progress and findings. 2.  Ensure thatjustice is done, and that those responsible forprematurely halting rescue efforts and recklesslyhandling and clearing away the train wreckage are heldaccountable. If crimes have been committed, there mustbe accountability under China’s Criminal Law. Victims’families who wish to seek a remedy in court must bepermitted to do so, and lawyers must be allowed torepresent them.  3.  Respect Chinese citizens’ rightto information and freedom of expression. Citizensmust be allowed to discuss the accident, theirconcerns, and grievances without being censored orthreatened. The press must be permitted to accuratelyand openly report the news and engage in investigativejournalism, which among other things, will helpidentify problems and lessons learned, and therebyminimize the risk of similar accidents occurring inthe future.   4.  Develop respect and sanctity forlife throughout the country by disseminating humanrights information and promoting human rightseducation, and genuinely adhering to human rightsprinciples in developing government policies andmaking decisions.   CHRDstatement in Chinese: “Cherish Life, Defend HumanRights—CHRD Network Statement on 7/23 High-SpeedRailway Disaster on Yong-Wen Line,” (珍惜生命,捍卫人权 ——“维权网”就“7.23甬温线高铁特大车难”的声明), July 30, 2011, http://wqw2010.blogspot.com/2011/07/723_30.htmlMedia Contact:Renee Xia,International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 81916937 or +1 240 374 8937, reneexia@chrdnet.org

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