World News

China detains man compiling list of quake victims

BEIJING (Reuters) - Police in southwestern China have detained a writer who was trying to compile a list of children killed in schools that collapsed during a devastating earthquake last year, an activist group said.

Visitors walk in front of a building which was destroyed during the Sichuan earthquake last year, in Beichuan county, Sichuan province March 3, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

In town after town in Sichuan province, schools collapsed during the May 12, 2008 earthquake, in some cases as residential buildings around them stayed standing. Over 80,000 people were killed in the earthquake, but the government has never released the number of children who died.

Tan Zuoren wrote a proposal this year, called “5.12 Student Archive,” to ask web users and people who lost their children in the quake to help set up a detailed database of the victims.

He asked volunteers in the project to also compile any evidence of shoddy construction at the schools.

He was detained on charges of subversion of state policies on March 28, the Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

Calls to his family home were unanswered on Wednesday.

A Reuters survey based on media reports at the time estimates that just under 10,000 of the victims were schoolchildren.

Tan had previously initiated a campaign to protest against plans by PetroChina to build an oil refinery and petrochemical plant in Pengzhou, near Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.

Hundreds of citizens rallied against the plant, plans for which were shelved after the earthquake flattened large swathes of Pengzhou county.

Police had previously detained other activists pressing for information about the dead schoolchildren, one of whom has been in custody without trial for nine months, the center said.

Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Sugita Katyal