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State secrecy laws used to intimidate journalists

(IFJ/IFEX) - 27 September 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned by the misuse of state secrecy laws to harass and intimidate a Chinese journalist investigating the arrest of a civil servant in Luoyang, in eastern China.

On September 22, Ji Xuguang, an investigative journalist for China's Southern Metropolis Daily, published a report about civil servant Li Hao being charged with the kidnap and imprisonment of six women in an underground bunker for the purposes of sexual slavery. Li, 34, an official with Luoyang City's Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau, is also accused of murdering two of the six women.

Immediately after publishing his report, Ji was approached by two unidentified men representing local police. He claims he was threatened and interrogated for details of the source of his information, and for revealing state secrets. Ji has refused to talk publicly about the case after receiving a phone call from police at midnight on September 25.

Ji's mistreatment follows the murder of another Luoyang journalist, Li Xiang, who died early on September 19 after being stabbed 13 times. Although local police have concluded the motive was robbery, Li's colleagues maintain the attack was related to his investigations into the illegal production of cooking oil in the city.

On September 24, the same day that Li Hao was charged, Luoyang Police Commissioner Guo Congbin made a general apology to the city's population acknowledging that community safety patrols were weak, and police officers had lost their sense of responsibility. However, in his apology Guo did not clarify why the case may have been classified as a state secret, and said only that communication between police and the media needs to be improved.

Ji's source has subsequently alleged that local police considered details of the charges against the civil servant state secrets out of fears that the negative publicity would jeopardise Luoyang's chances in the competition to be named China's most civilised city.

Under Article 9 (6) of China's Guarding State Secrets Act, any activity maintaining national security and investigating criminal offences can be classified as a state secret.

"China's Ministry of Public Security must take measures to ensure that all police and government officials do not use the Guarding State Secrets Act to harass or intimidate journalists working in China," IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

The IFJ urges Luoyang Police Commissioner Guo to conduct a special investigation into the harassment and intimidation of journalists in the city, and for the findings of the investigation to be made public.

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