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Journalists attacked while reporting on riots

(IFJ/IFEX) - 9 July 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns acts of violence against journalists reporting on riots in Urumqi, the capital of north-west China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The IFJ received reports that two media teams from the Communist Party-owned China Daily, including seven journalists and two drivers, were ambushed by groups of armed protesters as they were returning to their newspaper office on July 8.

Several Chinese newspapers reporting the attack said that two cars were smashed by unidentified people using long knives, iron bars and hammers at the juncture of a highway. One of the drivers suffered injuries to his hands.

The media reports said more than 100 people were involved in the ambush. It is not clear whether they were from the Uygur or Han ethnic populations.

"There is widespread concern about the death toll and escalating violence in Xinjiang, particularly as worried families, friends and colleagues are unable to access information about the situation," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

"Journalists who gain access to the area must be able to enter Urumqi and return to their offices to file their reports without fear for their personal safety."

The riots erupted on July 5, sparked by a fight between Uygur and Han factory workers in Guangdong Province on June 26, in which two Uygur people were killed. The local government-controlled website as well as and some social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been shut down.

All online references to the violence have been deleted except for information on the State-run Xinhua News Agency.

A Chinese journalist told the IFJ that Chinese and foreign media personnel were permitted to enter Urumqi but were immediately taken to a press conference held by the Chairman of the Xinjiang regional government. Another journalist reported that all communications systems in the area were not functioning and local people reported they were unable to make long-distance calls or to send phone messages.

The Central Propaganda Department issued an order on July 6 blocking all articles or messages about the riots. The BBC reports that 156 people have died, 800 are injured and 1434 have been arrested as the riots continue.

The IFJ calls on China's authorities to ensure all journalists, including its government-employed media workers, are given safe passage and are permitted to transmit information about the riots.

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