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China must allow free reporting in Inner Mongolia

Paramilitary police block the street during a protest in Xilinhot, Inner Mongolia. (Reuters/Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center/Handout)

New York, June 1, 2011--Authorities in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region must allow journalists to report on protests that have been ongoing for more than a week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Information authorities restricted domestic reporting on the student-led protests, which were sparked after Chinese coal mine employees killed two ethnic Mongolians who voiced complaints about the environmental impact of mining in mid-May, according to international news reports. Demonstrators angered by the two attacks gathered in several cities in the northern region, expressing frustration on a range of issues, including the destruction of the Mongolian grassland and tensions between the local population and Han Chinese leaders, the reports said.

U.K. Guardian reporter Jonathan Watts wrote on Friday that police prevented him from reaching the site of one of the deaths. "Special circumstances. You're not allowed in. It's not safe," said an officer. At 4:30 the next morning, Watts wrote, "two plainclothes police entered the Guardian's hotel room, woke this correspondent and tried to conduct an interrogation." The Guardian said Monday that hotels near schools and universities were refusing foreign guests.

Internet access in the region was unreliable and text messages "often blocked," according to The Associated Press. Regulators informed Internet cafes service would be shut down until June 6, AP said. 

"It is disappointing and shameful that Chinese authorities are continuing to control reporting of another outbreak of ethnic unrest," said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. "We call on the authorities to allow reporters to freely report on this breaking news."

The U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said in a statement today that police in the regional capital Hohhot had detained a student who sent a message to an online bulletin board. The center did not give the name of the person or the content of the message.

Authorities frequently limit reporting on ethnic unrest in China, including in the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, where tensions with local Han Chinese residents run high, and some activists contest Chinese rule. Information is also strictly controlled in the run-up to June 4, the anniversary of the government's crackdown on student-led protests around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Security in the rest of China has been unusually tight since February, when Chinese-language calls for demonstrators modeled on pro-democratic movements in the Middle East and North Africa were posted online, resulting in arrests, disappearances, and surveillance of writers, artists and activists, according to CPJ research

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