Thursday, 30 July 2009

Activists in China are fighting for transparency while journalists are routinely imprisoned and harrassed. It seems the country has a free speech problem that is directly linked with its poor international image.

Back in March, two months before the anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake, renowned artist Ai Weiwei's blog started to feature lists of children killed when inadequate school buildings collapsed during the 5.2 earthquake. He has enlisted the help of 50 volunteers to log each child's death.

"Once you have the basic facts, you know who is responsible for those kids," Ai recently told CNN. "Thousands of people died in this earthquake and is it necessary for them to die, or is it caused by some mistakes or wrongdoings in the construction of buildings?"

The blog also includes a section to record run-ins with officials.

Ai’s blog also hosts "investigator diaries," in which the volunteers log their run-ins with local officials, among other things. (Ai says that his team made some 150 calls to Sichuan officials trying to get a list of the dead, to no avail.) One volunteer posted a transcript of a call in which a bureaucrat told him, "Why do you care about the list if you don’t have a special purpose? This is none of your business."

Censors routinely delete lists from the blog but the feisty artist, whose international standing almost guarantees that he'll be left alone by irritated authorities, just reposts them.

Now, Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer in Tokyo for talks with government heads, has asked Kevin Rudd, Australia's prime minister, to sponsor calls for a United Nations mission to investigate the truth about the unrest that took place in China's Xinxiang province in early July.

"The Chinese government is so afraid the truth will be found out that they label us as terrorists," Ms Kadeer said in Tokyo yesterday after talks with officials of Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party.

"It is shameful for China to tell such lies," she said of allegations in the Chinese media of WUC links to al-Qa'ida groups.

But China says Kadeer is a convicted criminal and has asked the Melbourne International Film Festival not to screen The 10 Conditions of Love a documentary about Kadeer and her husband's "struggle for real autonomy and religious freedom for the mostly Muslim Uighurs in their Xinjiang homeland".

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy said: "Facts have proven that the violent crime" that occurred in Xinjiang "was instigated, masterminded and directed by World Uighur Congress headed by Rebiya".

"We urge the international community not to provide any form of support or even encouragement for her separatist activities," the statement said.

"Rebiya Kadeer is a criminal convicted by the Chinese judiciary authorities for committing crimes that jeopardise national security and major economic crimes," it said.

Can we handle the truth?

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