The Chinese government denied that three former bosses of the daily Nanfang Dushi Bao were arrested because of their journalist work. It was because Yu Huafeng, Li Minying and Cheng Yizhong had "broken the law and not because they expressed their opinions," Kong Quan, spokesman for the foreign affairs minister, said.
Speaking at a press briefing on 22 April, he said in reply to a question about the case of newspaper’s former management, that the government did not censor the Chinese press, although he said he did not know the details of the case.
"I can say that in this field [press freedom], China is a country ruled by law and which is constantly progressing," Kong added.
Former editor in chief of Nanfang Dushi Bao charged with corruption
9 April 2004
Former editor in chief of Nanfang Dushi Bao, Cheng Yizhong was charged with corruption on 1 April, following his recent arrest. He becomes the third member of the Guangzhou daily’s management to be formally charged. Yu Huafeng, former managing director of Nanfang Dushi Bao and Li Minying, former publisher, were respectively sentenced to 12 and 11 years in prison on 23 March 2004.
Cheng is accused of embezzling more than 1.5 million yuans (nearly 150,000 euros) of public funds in collusion with Yu Huafeng. Like his former colleagues, the former editor in chief defended his actions, saying he had only distributed part of the profits among the staff, a common practice in the Chinese press. Cheng was also editor in chief of Xin Jing Bao, a new Beijing daily belonging to the same press group.
Ex-manager sentenced to 12 years in prison and police arrest editor-in-chief
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) condemned a plot against former bosses of the weekly newspaper Nanfang Dushi Bao as ex-managing director Yu Huafeng was sentenced to 12 years for "corruption", "embezzlement" and "appropriating State property".
Police have arrested Cheng Yizhong, the newspaper’s editor in chief in connection with the same case.
"This is the latest stage of a plot set up by the authorities in Guangdong against this reforming and courageous daily which has in particular carried compromising news on the Sars virus and the death of a student in a police station," said the international press freedom organisation.
The plot aimed to keep Chinese journalists in a state of fear, it said. "While the Communist Party boasts of having included protection of private property in the Constitution, press bosses and journalists are sentenced to heavy jail terms for having turned their daily into an independent and going concern," said Reporters Without Borders.
The organisation has written to the governor of Guangdong province, Huang Huahua, to urge the release of Yu Huafeng, Li Minying and Cheng Yizhong and to put an end to the legal action against former mangers of Nanfang Dushi Bao.
A people’s court in Dongshan, Guangdong province sentenced Yu, former managing director of Nanfang Dushi Bao (News of the southern metropolis) to 12 years for corruption and embezzlement on 19 March.
The prosecutor told the court that Yu had taken 100,000 yuan (nearly 10,000 euros) from the newspaper’s takings and shared out 480,000 yuan (nearly 47,000 euros), in particular to Li Minying, former editor of the daily, also imprisoned and sentenced to 11 years in prison by the Dongshan court.
Yu defended his actions to the judges, saying that he had only distributed a part of the receipts of Nanfang Dushi Bao in the form of profit-sharing. His lawyer, Xu Zhiyong, said he would be lodging an appeal.
According to Chinese journalists questioned by Reporters Without Borders the distributing of compensation to publishing and editorial bosses is very common in the press. Although all media are theoretically government property, some have become extremely successful businesses, mainly thanks to advertising.
"Yu has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for receiving 100,000 yuan while he was earning ten times as much as a press boss. It is ridiculous. All media that work to become commercially successful are under threat," said one Beijing-based journalist.
Cheng Yizhong, former editor in chief of Nanfang Dushi Bao, was arrested at home overnight on 19-20 March by agents of public security in this same case. His wife said the arrest and charges that could be laid against him were linked to his revelations on the Sars virus and the death of a young graphic artist, Sun Zhigang, who was beaten to death in a police station. The arrest warrant accused the journalist of "appropriating State property".
Cheng had earlier, in January 2004, been held for several days by police detectives, along with six of the daily’s staff members. On 9 March, he was forced to resign from Nanfang Dushi Bao. The 38-year-old Cheng is one of Chinese journalism’s rising stars.