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