A Chinese newspaper pleaded with police to release a journalist detained over an investigative report, a bold and brave move against the government’s draconian measures to censor media.
Scrawled in large Chinese characters on the front pages of the New Express on October 23 was a direct plea for police to release Chen Yongzhou that said: “Please Release Him.”
For a second day, the Guangzhou-based daily published on the bottom of its front page a large four-character headline that read: “Again: Please Release Him.”
Chen was detained after writing more than a dozen stories criticizing the finances of Zoomlion, a major construction equipment maker part owned by the Hunan government.
Zoomlion had previously denied the claims and said they had complained to police following Chen’s stories.
“The reason we did it was to safeguard the legitimate rights of the company,” Zoomlion vice president Sung Changjun told Reuters, declining further comment.
In a commentary ran by the newspaper on Tuesday, the New Express alluded to the state-owned company’s influence in Changsha.
“Even though Zoomlion is very strong and pays a lot of taxes in Changsha, we are still of the same class,” the editorial read. “Uncle police, big brother Zoomlion, we beg you, please let Cheng Yongzhou go.”
Changsha police said Chen was being investigated for “damaging the commercial reputation” of a company without providing any detail.
The newspaper’s rare public rebuke came amid new measures by the government to crack down on press freedom and social media. It also coincides with President Xi Jinping’s campaign to stamp put high-level corruption.
But Chen’s detention “cast doubt” over Xi’s austerity campaign, Maya Wang, a China expert at Human Rights Watch.
“When the government is cracking down on freedom of expression and arresting journalists… it seems to cast serious doubt on how serious this anti-corruption drive is,” Wang said.
By Maesie Bertumen