Chinese journalists openly criticized censors after an editorial calling for political reform was apparently altered into a tribute to the Communist Party, a rare move against the ruling party’s tight grip on the country.

Sixty journalists from the influential Guangdong-based newspaper, Southern Weekly, issued an open letter on Saturday expressing their outrage over the changes which they said were made without consent of the editorial department and described the censors as “tyrannical and stupid”.

Another group of former reporters from the newspaper argued that “strong and credible news media” are “crucial and necessary” for the Communist Party and called for the resignation of the provincial party propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen, whom they hold responsible for the changes.

“If the media should lose credibility and influence, then how can the ruling party make its voice heard or convince its people,” the group said in the letter.

The original version of New Year’s editorial called for democracy, freedom and adherence to the constitution, and read: “The Chinese dream is the dream of constitutional rule.” That version was apparently published as “The Chinese dream of renaissance was closer than ever before, thanks to China’s Communist leaders.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, speaking at a routine briefing, said she was not aware of the details of the issue, adding, “I want to point out that there’s no so-called news censorship in China and the Chinese government protects the freedom of news report and has given fully play to news media in terms of supervision.”