A man wades through a flooded street after heavy rains in Beijing on Saturday.

Beijing -

China has pulled a Beijing newspaper from the newsstands after it criticised the official handling of July floods and said the government had underreported the death toll, a rights group said on Tuesday.

Authorities in China's capital have faced strong public criticism over their response to the heaviest rains in more than 60 years, which submerged major highways and killed 79 people at the last official count.

But the government has been quick to censor criticism in state-run media, and Chinese Human Rights Defenders said this week's edition of the Economic Observer had been pulled and the critical article deleted from the paper's website

The article, seen by AFP, focused on three men who were seen on July 21 being washed away by flood waters in Beijing's mountain resort town of Shidu and the subsequent search for them by their family and friends.

The family ordeal was contrasted with repeated statements by the township government that “no one died or was injured” in Shidu.

Without directly accusing the government, the report portrayed officials as seeking to burnish their response to the disaster by downplaying the severity of the situation and cynically refusing to report the numbers of people missing.

An official at the paper, when contacted by AFP, refused to comment on the censorship of the paper except to say there was a “printing problem” with the Monday edition.

The official death toll from the disaster, which hit outlying areas of the city worst, proved a particularly sensitive issue, with many Beijing residents questioning the initial figure of 37 issued the day after the floods.

A report by the Hong Kong-based China Media Project, which monitors censorship in China, said authorities were “moving aggressively” to contain negative coverage of the floods, which has focused on a lack of warning and the inadequacy of drainage systems.

In July, Beijing's propaganda chief Lu Wei told media outlets to stick to stories of “achievements worthy of praise and tears”, the Beijing Times daily reported. - Sapa-AFP