04/02/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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A year after the Sichuan quake demanding to know the names of dead students can mean prison

Police arrests writer Tan Zuoren, guilty of trying to find the truth behind the collapse of schools that killed thousands of students. Almost a year after the quake there is no official truth, and none might be forthcoming. The authorities plan to spend almost US$ 1.2 billion to make schools safer.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Writer Tan Zuoren was taken into custody by Chengdu police on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” for trying to conduct an independent investigation into the causes of the collapse of school buildings which killed thousands of schoolchildren in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake. For their part the authorities are still unable to explain why so many schools crumbled but they did pledge almost US$ 1.2 billion for new, safer schools.

Eleven months after the quake that killed more than 88,000 people the authorities are still unable to provide detailed information about the number of students who actually died.

Tan Zuoren came up with a proposal this year called ‘5.12 Student Archive’, asking web users and people who lost their children in the quake to help set up a detailed victim database, Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported. But for his trouble Chengdu police searched his home and confiscated his DVDs, manuscripts and documents

Tan is based in Chengdu, one of the hardest hit areas. About 15,000 people are thought to have been killed in the city with more than 80 per cent of its buildings collapsing.

Parents who lost children say that schools were not properly built and often collapsed whilst surrounding buildings survived the quake. They accuse local officials of embezzling public funds and building sub-standard schools.

By contrast the authorities have put all the blame on the quake even though they have not released the findings of the investigation that took place afterwards. They did none the less ban the foreign press from the quake zone.

Huang Qi, director of Tianwang Human Rights Center, has been in detention since 10 June 2008 for reporting on the issue and giving interviews to foreign journalists about protests staged by families of schoolchildren demanding accountability.

Leading architectural designer Ai Weiwei launched a campaign to tally the student death toll on his personal blog this year.

In the meantime the government is set to spend an extra 8 billion yuan (US$ 1.17 billion) this year on strengthening school buildings in areas where earthquakes, floods and landslides are frequent, especially in the poorer areas of central and western China.

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