World News‎ > ‎

Chinese protest outside newspaper offices in rare censorship demonstration

posted 7 Jan 2013, 05:20 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 7 Jan 2013, 05:21 ]

At least a hundred Chinese people rally in front of a liberal-leaning newspaper's offices in Guangzhou city to protest against censors turning the publication's New Year's address for reform into one extolling the Communist Party.

GUANGZHOU CITY, GUANGDONG PROVINCE, CHINA (JANUARY 7, 2013) (ATV) - Scores of supporters of one of China's most liberal newspapers emonstrated outside its headquarters on Monday (January 7) in a rare protest against censorship, backing a rare strike by journalists against interference by the provincial propaganda chief and calling for his resignation.

The protest in Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong province, comes amid an escalating standoff between the government and the people over press freedom.

It is also an early test of Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping's commitment to reform.

The outcry began late last week after reporters at the influential Southern Weekly newspaper accused censors of replacing an original New Year's letter to readers that called for a constitutional government with another piece lauding the party's achievements.

The protesters, most of them young, held up small hand-written signs that called for freedom of speech. Many clutched chrysanthemums, symbolising mourning the death of press freedom.

One unidentified man, holding up a bouquet of flowers, said he came to show support for the newspaper's editorial staff.

"Maybe many reporters have been unable to sleep since their articles had been edited. What we have to do now is to support them," he said.

Police allowed the demonstration outside the headquarters of the Southern Group, illustrating that theGuangdong government, led by newly appointed and rising political star Hu Chunhua, wants to tread carefully to contain rising public anger over censorship.

Another unidentified protester said the people and the newspaper share a common fate.

"Nowadays, when something bad happens to a person or media, it's because they speak out for others. If today, we don't speak up when Southern Weekly gets into trouble, no one would speak for us if something bad happens to one of us here in the next second. We share a common fate. We should be proud of every person or media who steps forward bravely regardless of danger," she said.

The attention paid to the protest domestically highlights the unique position of Guangdong, China's wealthiest and most liberal province and the birthplace of the country's "reform and opening up" programme. In a symbolic move, Xi chose to go to Guangdong on his first trip after being anointed party chief in November.

On Sunday (January 6) night, the Southern Weekly official microblog denied the removal of the New Year Letter was due to censorship, saying the "online rumours were false". Those remarks drew criticism from Chinese Internet users.

Many Southern Weekly journalists disavowed themselves from the statement on the microblog, which they say was taken over by management, and pledged to go on strike.

Several open letters have circulated on the Internet calling for the Guangdong propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen, to step down, blaming him for muzzling the press.

Chinese Internet users already cope with extensive censorship, especially over politically sensitive topics like human rights and elite politics, and popular foreign sites Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube are blocked.

China shut the website of a leading pro-reform magazine on Friday (January 4), apparently because it ran an article calling for political reform and constitutional government, sensitive topics for the party which brooks no dissent.