08/04/2011, 00.00
CHINA
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Wenzhou disaster : Beijing "forced" to ensure "greater transparency"

The State Council calls on the authorities to act in a "transparent" manner. Attempts to appease distrust in public opinion. But experts note that the rigid censorship of the news on the train wreck continues and they demand the freedom to speak about it.
Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - "Greater transparency" in the handling of emergencies: In a circular dated August 2, the State Council, China's real government, indicated to authorities that that questions of general interest "must be disclosed in an objective and timely manner. " Beijing is trying to regain credibility, as controversy rages over the Wenzhou train wreck of 23 July, that left 40 victims and the subsequent attempt by the authorities to avoid explanations.

After the collision of 2 trains, the authorities made no attempt to provide answers, even to the point of refusing to meet with the relatives of the victims who rushed to the site. On 29 July the Central Department of Propaganda of the Communist Party banned the media from reporting any news or negative comment on the incident or rescue operation. This has outraged public opinion in an unprecedented way, partly because China has always indicated high speed travel as one of its greatest success stories and the high speed trains are used by all.

Analysts observe that yesterday’s statement by Sheng Guangzu, Minister of Railways, that the railway network is "absolutely safe" is not enough to reassure the population. To recover the trust of those who travel by train authorities must explain what happened and identify specific responsibilities, explain how the emergency was handled (a girl of 2 years has been found alive after 21 hours in the destroyed train, hours after the official statement that there were no other survivors) and then what is being done to make trains safer.

Many are skeptical of the State Council’s call for transparency, because, as noted by Qian Gang of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, "the individual departments can interpret the document differently." He notes that there is still possibility of the authorities "keeping secret" the outcome of the investigation and that "the propaganda departments can still stop the criticism of the media and say that have to guide public opinion in an objective manner."

There is also lack of confidence in an investigation conducted by the same Ministry of Railways. Also because only a few months ago the then Minister Liu Zhijun was arrested for serious acts of corruption, linked to the funding of the high-speed system.

The group for the protection of rights Chinese Human Rights Defenders states that there is still no definitive and official list of dead and wounded; that there is a strict Internet censorship on those who speak out, that some relatives of the victims were threatened by the authorities to stop the negative comments if they want to receive compensation. Several parties request that the National People's Congress create a commission to determine the cause and report the results periodically, as provided for in Article .71 of the Constitution. First, CHRD demands that censorship on the issue be removed and an independent investigation set up, because only freedom of speech and information can provide an effective control over the authorities.

All this to ensure against a recurrence of the case of the thousands of children who died in schools that collapsed like tofu puddings in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008: even then Wen Jiabao rushed to the site and guaranteed fast and transparent investigations. Beijing has never revealed the outcome of the investigation nor the list of victims. But it imprisoned and prosecuted those who made independent investigations.

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