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China Says Over 5,000 Students Died in Last Year's Earthquake  བོད་སྐད།

Chinese authorities have announced the first official numbers for student deaths in last year's devastating Sichuan earthquake.

Authorities in Sichuan province put the official student death count at 5,335. Authorities also say the quake left 546 students disabled.

These numbers are lower than estimates from the time of the earthquake, some of which put the student death toll close to 9,000.

Issue is sensitive

The issue of student deaths is especially sensitive for China because of accusations from many bereaved parents who say school buildings were poorly constructed.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has worked since December to compile a list of child quake victims. A co-designer of the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium and son of a famous Chinese poet, Ai thinks the only way to verify the government's official death toll is to see a complete list of victims' names.

"The names are very important because that is the essential facts," Ai said. "Otherwise the state just say(s) 10,000 people or 100,000 people are dead. There is no truth really to it."

Artist says his volunteers were harassed by authorities

Ai recruited volunteers to go to Sichuan and speak with families who lost children in the quake and to school employees. After six months of work, they have collected 5,200 names.

The artist updates the list of names on his popular blog, where he also posts accounts from his volunteers of police harassment.

"Our volunteers have been arrested, in over 20 cases been unlawfully searched, their materials destroyed, all those kind of things, and been sent to some unwilling areas, you know, dropped on the side of the highway and in two cases beaten," he said.

Rights groups urge Beijing to be more open

A recent Amnesty International report includes accounts from dozens of parents who were detained when they approached courts and local officials to complain about the schools. Human Rights Watch called for Beijing to be more open about the quake and to allow parents to file lawsuits against officials and companies involved in building schools.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China this week reported three instances of journalists being attacked while working in the quake zone.