Police in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan chased away a local journalist who tried to report on a July coal-mine explosion that local officials said killed five people and injured 15 others, although as many as nine people are thought to have died.
“The local government is preventing the local media from reporting the story,” a local reporter from Huatan township told RFA’s Mandarin service. “The police, the ones stationed at the hospital, the plain-clothes police—they chased me but I escaped through the alley,” the reporter said. “It happened at the county hospital.”
The reporter said he had gone to the hospital to report on the number of casualties from the blast. The local government was worried so they announced only five casualties. In fact, six workers had been confirmed dead by the night of July 20, and the death toll rose by three more subsequently.
Calls to the County Publicity Department, the County Federation of Trade Unions, the County Coal Administration, and even the hospital that had admitted the most seriously injured workers went unanswered, as did the number of the Ya’an City Safety Production Administration.
A call to the surgical ward at the County Chinese and Western Medicine Integrated Hospital where two slightly injured workers were admitted received a curt refusal. “You can’t visit any of the two workers here,” the surgeon said, before hanging up.
A Huatan township official surnamed Tao repeated the official count of dead and injured. “Five were killed, 12 suffered minor injuries, and three were injured rather seriously,” Tao said, but declined to give further details.
“The news that came from the hospital this morning said that six people died yesterday,” the reporter—who said he had taken pictures in secret to avoid having his camera confiscated by police—told RFA. “Three more died this morning, so it is a total of nine...The government is worried, so it only says that five were killed.”
He said local officials would get into more trouble the more casualties were reported, so they had instead organized a clampdown on media reporting of the accident. The coal mine was run by the township government and the miners were all local farmers with no safety training, he added.
“The coal mine is township-run and the workers are all nearby farmers...They don’t have any safety training,” said the reporter, who said he had no plans to follow up on the story because of official pressure.
The township government’s Tan told RFA the mine was unconnected to the local government. “No, it doesn’t,” Tan said, when asked if the township government owned the mine.
Safety standards in China’s mines are among the lowest in the world, with a total of 7,197 deaths reported in the first 10 months of 2003, which is equivalent to around 24 deaths a day. Most of these deaths occurred in coal pits.
China announced in November 2003 that it would reopen nearly 2,000 coal mines ordered shut after a series of fatal accidents, in an attempt to address relentless demand for energy.