Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today deplored the sanctions imposed on two weeklies that tried to break the vice of censorship. One was Ershiyi Shiji Huanqiu Baodao (The 21st Century World Herald), which was temporarily shut down after publishing an interview with a veteran reformist leader. The other was Xinwen Zhoukan (China Newsweek), two editors of which were dismissed at the behest of outgoing Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.
"These harsh punishments give rise to concern about the way the country’s new leaders plan to deal with the liberal press," the organisation said, urging the new government to respect the international convenants signed by China including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which article 19 guarantees freedom of expression.
The ban on Ershiyi Shiji Huanqiu Baodao was imposed during the week of 10 March by the propaganda department of the southern province of Guangdong, where the weekly is published by the Southern Daily press group of Guangzhou. Expected to last a month, the ban appeared to have been prompted by an article in the 3 March issue by Mao Zedong’s former secretary Li Rui, in which he openly criticised the current communist leaders and called for political reforms.
The ban may also have been prompted by a report on the crisis between the United States and North Korea over the latter’s development of nuclear weapons, which contained views that strayed from the official Chinese version. Both articles are still available on the weekly’s website at www.nanfangdaily.com.cn/hg/20030310/.
A journalist with Nanfang Zhoumo (another newspaper published by the Southern Daily group) told Reporters Without Borders that the Li Rui article had already appeared in January in the weekly China Chronicle. The news agency Reuters reported that the closure came as no surprise to the weekly’s editors. "We knew our magazine would be closed," one said.
Sale of the 3 March issue of Xinwen Zhoukan was banned because of an article deemed lacking in respect for outgoing Prime Minister Zhu Rongji. The article was also removed from the weekly’s website. The weekly has since resumed publication but two of its editors were dismissed for allowing the article. It was reported that Zhu personally demanded that the propaganda department impose this sanction on Winwen Zhoukan, a quality magazine published by Zhongguo Xinwen She (China News Service), a news agency that is in part privately owned.