A Greenpeace East Asia investigation exposing how a Chinese state-run coal company is overexploiting water resources and illegally discharging toxic wastewater has made global headlines.
International news agencies such as Reuters and AFP published the story, highlighting how the Shenhua Group's coal-to-liquid project in Inner Mongolia has reduced groundwater levels and drained an important lake by almost two-thirds.
Shenhua's operations have sparked social unrest and caused severe ecological damage including desertification, impacting farmers and herders who are facing reduced water supplies.
But inside China the reporting of this story is strangely barren – much like the land that is being destroyed in Inner Mongolia.
Released at a press conference in Beijing, the compelling Thirsty Coal 2 report by Greenpeace East Asia has fallen prey to a media blackout on the Chinese mainland. Indeed, Greenpeace East Asia has learnt that a directive not to report on the investigation into Shenhua may have been issued to state media before the press briefing.
Posts about the investigation on the Chinese version of Twitter, Weibo, have also been removed. This spurred on the Chinese public or 'netizens', however, to repost the censored links about Shenhua, which only had its Weibo account verified last week Monday.
This has escalated to the words “Greenpeace” and “Shenhua” being banned – a first for the East Asia office.
An old expression is that a photo can speak a thousand words, so it's also remarkable that a photo slideshow on one of China’s leading news portals has also been blocked.
And if a photo portrays a thousand words, how many does a video have? With the video portal YouTube banned in China, Youku is the country’s online video go-to site.
But even this has been subject to censorship, with a video portraying how a community in Inner Mongolia has been affected by Shenhua's ruthless water grab also being removed.
Despite the censorship, Greenpeace East Asia is standing firm and has replaced the blocked Youku link with YouTube’s, carrying the canny message: "This is a link to YouTube. Welcome to the Wall, you know."
For those outside of China, here is the banned web video:
This story cannot be totally censored. It has been reported internationally outside of China and will sooner or later, find it's way back.
Greenpeace East Asia's report is timely and is still accessible, both in Mandarin and English, on the website. Greenpeace East Asia will continue to demand that Beijing act to limit the use of water by its thirsty coal industry, starting with companies such as Shenhua.
Water access and the right to a clean environment is an issue that no amount of censorship can hide.
Image: Haolebaoji, Inner Mongolia. Desertification from falling ground water levels has caused grasslands to disappear. Now the sheep have to be fed and raised in their pens. © Greenpeace / Qiu Bo