Five of the six members of the board that provides editorial advice and recommendations to the magazine Tong Zhou Gong Jin ("Solidarity in the same boat") have resigned in protest against editor Xiao Weibin’s dismissal on 2 September.
All local political figures known for pro-reform positions, the five announced their resignation on 18 October. Their names disappeared from the magazine’s organisation chart in November. They are Ren Zhongyi, the former Communist Party chief in Guangzhou, Wu Nansheng, Zheng Qun, Qi Feng and Yang Yingbin.
Xiao, who had been a member of the magazine’s editorial board since its creation in 1988, was fired for publishing an interview with Ren in which he advocated political reforms and criticised the authorities for censoring the print media and Internet.
No let up in crackdown on Guangzhou press
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the dismissal of Xiao Weibi as editor of a liberal, Guangzhou-based magazine for carrying an interview with a former, pro-reform political leader, and the new sanctions taken against Cheng Yizhong, the former editor of the dailies Xin Jing Bao and Nanfang Dushi Bao.
The organisation said it was outraged by the relentless hounding of the liberal press in Guangdong province by the local authorities, especially propaganda department chief Zhu Xiaodan, and it called on Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to intervene on behalf of Xiao and Cheng as well as fellow journalists Yu Huafeng and Li Minying, who have all been victims in different ways.
Xiao was fired on 2 September as editor of Tong Zhou Gong Jin (meaning "One ship moving forward") over an interview in which Ren Zhongyi, the former head of the Guangdong communist party, called for political reforms and criticised censorship of the press and Internet.
Contacted by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Xiao said: "I am no longer the editor. You must understand that I am in a very difficult position." The magazine’s new editor told Agence France-Presse that his predecessor had "gone into retirement."
The interview seems to have roused the wrath of both local and central government authorities. According to the Hong Kong-based magazine Yazhou Zhoukan, a deputy minister was sent from Beijing to investigate and deal with the matter. Tong Zhou Gong Jin has been published since 1988 by a local communist party offshoot.
Another Guangzhou-based magazine, Nanfeng Chuang, was also investigated for publishing extracts of the interview. But it was not punished because it did not include the section in which Ren directly criticised the late Deng Xiaoping.
The new sanctions against Cheng Yizhong were adopted by the communist party’s disciplinary committee in Guangdong on 22 October. Cheng was dismissed as editor-in-chief of the daily Nanfang Dushi Bao and expelled from the party. The party committee within the Nanfang press group was not informed and the party banned the Chinese press from reporting the sanctions.
Several sources said that following these latest decisions it was hard to imagine that Cheng, who was held without charge from 20 March to 27 August, would ever be able to work as a journalist again.
Yu and Li are two other senior members of the Nanfang group staff who have been given long prison sentences on the basis of corruption charges that were trumped up by the local authorities, including Guangzhou police chief Zhu Suisheng, with the aim of sustaining a climate of fear in the Chinese press.