BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese newspaper made a rare front-page appeal Wednesday for police to release one of its reporters after he was detained for writing reports alleging financial misdeeds at a large, state-owned construction equipment company.
In an editorial boldly headlined "Please release him," The New Express newspaper said there was no evidence 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.
"Although our newspaper is small, we have a backbone," the editorial said.
The newspaper's protest garnered significant attention in the Chinese blogosphere, with Internet users circulating the editorial and news portals giving it prominent play. It comes at a time when concerns have been raised about heavy-handedness by Chinese authorities against journalists or bloggers who seek to expose wrongdoing or raise critical opinions.
The New Express said Chen was being punished for a series of reports he wrote that scrutinized the finances of Zoomlion, a construction company listed on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges. The reports accused Zoomlion of artificially inflating its profits.
Zoomlion 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. The Hunan provincial government owns one-sixth of the company and is its largest shareholder. Calls to Zoomlion's press office in Changsha rang unanswered.
Police in the Hunan provincial capital, Changsha, said on its official microblog that the journalist had been detained on Saturday for alleged "damage to business reputation."
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!"
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 microblog 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," said Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Maya Wang.