In China an activist who has been investigating the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 has been jailed for five years for inciting subversion. Although the charges against Tan Zuoren did not formally relate to his investigation, human rights groups claim they were the real reason for the prosecution.
He was arrested while preparing a report into the collapse of school buildings during the quake. In many areas, schools seemed to have fared worse than neighbouring buildings, and parents alleged that corruption had led to poor building standards. Altogether 80,000 people died.
A Hong Kong television crew was prevented from attending Tan Zuoren’s trial, and had their hotel room searched for alleged possession of drugs.
China has a record of secrecy in the aftermath of disasters. After the great Tangshan quake of 1976 it took two years for the authorities to announce that 242,000 had been killed, and many still believe the true number was much higher, while details of the Henan floods of 1975 – caused by shoddily built dams – were suppressed for nearly 30 years. Human rights groups believe that more than 200,000 people died.