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© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-24

A Chinese newspaper made a bold front-page appeal on Thursday – for a second day – urging the authorities to release one of its journalists after he was detained for writing reports alleging financial misdeeds at a state-owned construction company.

Chinese newspaper New Express published a daring plea on its front page for a second day Thursday asking that one of its reporters be freed after he was detained last Friday for writing about the alleged financial misdeeds of a part state-owned company.

In an editorial boldly headlined “Again: please release him,” the paper said there was no evidence that the journalist, Chen Yongzhou, had committed any crime. It said journalists should not be criminally prosecuted for responsibly reporting facts that may embarrass influential companies or individuals.

Chen Yongzhou was detained after writing more than a dozen stories criticising the finances of major state-owned construction equipment maker Zoomlion. The company is the second-largest construction equipment maker in China, with 32,000 employees and reported revenue of 48 billion yuan ($7.6 billion) last year. Chen’s reports accused Zoomlion of artificially inflating its profits.

Police in the Hunan provincial capital, Changsha, made an online statement saying the journalist had been detained on Saturday for alleged “damage to business reputation”.

‘We have a backbone’

The move to detain Chen coincides with new curbs on journalists, lawyers and internet users in China, which have raised concerns of heavy-handedness by the authorities against those who seek to expose wrongdoing or raise critical opinions.

The New Express’s two-day protest has garnered significant attention in the Chinese blogosphere, with Chen’s story going viral on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like micro-blog service. Chinese media were largely critical of Chen's detention, accusing police of abuse of power.

An editorial in the paper on Thursday read “although our newspaper is small, we have a backbone”.

The newspaper adopted a slightly mocking tone in its plea: “If the heavens would give us a chance, then we would say: Uncle policemen, Brother Zoomlion, we beg you, release Chen Yongzhou!”

Zoomlion told Reuters on Wednesday it had complained to Changsha police about Chen.

‘Close attention’

In a surprising move from a state authority, the Chinese central publishing regulator expressed concern on Thursday about Chen.

“The General Association of Press and Publishing (GAPP) resolutely supports the news media conducting normal interviewing and reporting activities and resolutely protects journalists’ normal and legal rights to interview,” the China Press and Publishing Journal, which is overseen by the association itself, said, citing an association official. “At the same time, it resolutely opposes any abuse of the right to conduct interviews.” The article said the association was paying “close attention” to the matter.

Chen is the second New Express reporter to be detained in recent months. In August, New Express reporter Liu Hu was detained after he made posts on his personal micro-blog urging authorities to investigate the deputy director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, saying that the official had been derelict while working in Chongqing.

Rights activists have decried the prosecution of Liu and others who have drawn attention to official or corporate misdeeds, saying they contradict the Communist Party’s stated determination to root out corruption.

“Their detentions are bound to send a message to other journalists in China – that the high-profile ‘anti-corruption drive’ championed by the new leadership does not welcome the voices of these independent whistleblowers,” Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Maya Wang told AP.

Paris-based press rights group Reporters Without Borders hailed the New Express move as "courageous" and joined its call for Chen to be freed.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-10-24