x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Rights group questions death toll count of train crash

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) has questioned the official death toll of 40 from the July 23 accident in Zhejiang province.

BEIJING // A rights group has accused the Chinese authorities of "disregard for human life and fundamental rights" in their handling of a recent high-speed rail crash.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) has questioned the official death toll of 40 from the July 23 accident in Zhejiang province.

It has also criticised the government for trying to clear the accident scene quickly and for clamping down on critical reporting. The group has said there must be an impartial investigation into the crash.

The accident, which saw one high-speed train plough into another that had stalled because of a power failure caused by a lightning strike, also left 190 injured, according to official figures.

CHRD said yesterday that a mother whose young child died in the crash had registered concern on a microblogging site as to why the youngster's name was not on the list of fatalities, and "wondered how many other names were missing from the list". The group said the number killed and injured "remains unclear".

CHRD said the "initial bold coverage of the crash by the Chinese media has largely been brought to a halt" by a directive issued last week by the government's propaganda department calling for an end to critical reporting.

The directive, which also insisted on tighter controls on internet discussion of the crash, was issued last week hours after the premier, Wen Jiabao, promised the accident investigation would be "open and transparent".

"The manner in which the Chinese government has handled the accident, by suppressing information, censoring the media, prematurely halting rescue operations, destroying evidence, and thwarting citizens' investigations, reveals this authoritarian regime's utter disregard for human life and fundamental rights," Renee Xia, CHRD's international director, said.

The group, a network of domestic and overseas Chinese human rights activists and groups, said it was concerned over a possible conflict of interest as the Ministry of Railways was conducting the investigation into the accident.

Earlier this year, China dismissed the man in charge of the ministry, the railways minister Liu Zhijun, for alleged corruption.

Instead of the ministry, the standing committee of the National People's Congress, China's legislature, should investigate the crash, according to the rights group.

The organisation also said those "responsible for prematurely halting rescue efforts and recklessly handling and clearing away the train wreckage" should be called to account.

China's people and journalists must be allowed to discuss the accident freely, the group insisted.

CHRD is not the only organisation to criticise the Chinese authorities over their handling of the crash.

Earlier this week the International Federation of Journalists called for the "immediate reinstatement" of a China Central Television (CCTV) journalist, Wang Qinglei, who is said to have been suspended or sacked because of critical reports. There are reports that another CCTV journalist has also been suspended.

 

dbardsley@thenational.ae