Plainclothes police in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province, turned Irish Times journalist Clifford Coonan and a photographer away from the home of parents whose children died in the May 12 earthquake. Later authorities further harassed Coonan, intimidated his Chinese sources in a bid to prevent them from giving interviews, and compelled the photographer to erase photos.
The day after being denied access to the parents’ home, Coonan returned to Dujiangyan at the parent’s urging to accompany them as they filed a petition at the local courthouse. Government officials in Chengdu had given Coonan reporting passes, but local police in Dujiangyan were still blocking access and widely intimidating sources.
“We were told to leave by a polite court official,” said Coonan. “Then as we were leaving, two extremely gruff uniformed police approached the car and made the photographer wipe his memory card.”
Coonan said a high fence and police in riot gear surrounded the Juyuan Middle School, which collapsed and killed hundreds of students and was made famous by a visit from Premier Wen Jiabao in the early days of the disaster. For nearly two weeks after the quake, it remained open to the public and press and was the site of many impromptu memorials by grieving parents.