The editor and six staff of a daily newspaper that broke the story of a new Sars case in December were questioned by police over alleged corruption, in an obvious attempt to silence them, said Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières).
Cheng Yizhong, editor in chief of Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis Daily), and the six other staff members of the tabloid were questioned by Guangzhou police on 6 January.
"There is no doubt that this corruption case is a pretext to try to silence this newspaper, known for its compromising revelations for local and national authorities," said Reporters Without Borders. In targeting Cheng and the Nanfang Dushi Bao staff the authorities were sending a new and very clear message to all the media to discourage it from reporting freely on Sars. Reporters Without Borders called on the World Health Organisation to intervene with the Chinese authorities to allow free reporting of news on the epidemic. In 2003, censorship and then propaganda kept the public in ignorance of the reality of the epidemic in the country.
Among those arrested at the newspaper on 6 January were staff from the business services. They were questioned for several hours over alleged corruption. Cheng was released the following day and was able to return to his office. The others have reportedly not resumed work.
Reporter for the newspaper Zeng Wenqiong, broke the news in December that a Guangzhou television producer was ill with Sars virus. Since 7 January, the management of the paper have been saying she was on holiday. According to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, the provincial authorities accused the newspaper of publishing the news without official permission.
Cheng, 38, is also editor in chief of Xin Jing Bao (Beijing News) a new daily launched in November 2003. The rising journalistic star set out with Xin Jing Bao to publish "forbidden news" and biting investigations on the realities of Chinese society.
In March 2003, the newspaper hit the headlines with its revelations about the death of a young graphic artist Sun Zhigang, who was beaten to death in a Guangzhou police station.