Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today welcomed the release of Cheng Yizhong, former editor-in-chief of the daily newspapers Xin Jing Bao and Nanfang Dushi Bao but called on the authorities to free two other editors on the outspoken Nanfang Dushi Bao who were arrested more than five months ago after the paper reported on the SARS epidemic and other taboo subjects.
The worldwide press freedom organisation said it hoped Cheng, whose release from preventive detention was announced anonymously by the papers’ staff, would be allowed to work as a journalist again. It appealed for journalists Yu Huafeng and Li Minying, who were sentenced to prison terms, to be freed as well.
Cheng was reportedly released on 27 August by Guangzhou police and allowed to return home, where some sources said he was put under house arrest, suggesting he would not be able to work as a journalist. The authorities have not confirmed his release.
He had been detained without being charged since 20 March. The law allows people to be held for six months in this way, which means police are supposed to present the results of their enquiry into the case by 20 September.
The two papers had printed stories about SARS and about a young graphic artist, Sun Zhigang, who was beaten to death in a Guangzhou police station. The journalists were dismissed and arrested. Local authorities, including Guangzhou police chief Zhu Suisheng, have targeted the daring paper in a bid to intimidate the country’s journalists.