Southern Metropolitan Daily editor languishes in China’s version of Gitmo

For three months, Cheng Yizhong, editor of Guangzhou’s crusading Southern Metropolitan Daily, has languished in prison, still not knowing what he will be charged with or when he’ll be in court. This article offers a good overview of the supression of the tabloid, and its ramifications for other Chinese media.

Staff [of Southern Daily] believe the problems go back to the newspaper’s exposure early last year of the death of Sun Zhigang, a young graphic artist arrested for not having a city resident’s permit, and then beaten to death by other prisoners in a police lockup at the instigation of his guards.

As the Southern Metropolitan Daily broke the scandal, Mr Cheng was contacted by a friend of the Guangzhou Communist Party’s political and legal committee chief, Jiang Guifang.

The editor was asked not to mention that Mr Jiang, in a speech only months earlier, had backed strong efforts by city police to round up migrant workers lacking stay permits.

Mr Cheng robustly refused, and the paper did mention the speech in a report last June.

Mr Jiang, the party’s legal chief, was then forced to make a humiliating “self-criticism” at an internal party meeting.

I find that scary as hell. Arrest and lengthy prison sentences (others at the paper have been sentenced to 11 and 12 years) for making a local party chief feel embarrassed. And, as the article says, it can only put pressure on other newspapers throughout China to limit or halt their criticism of party officials.

Media reform? I hear about it all the time. And I know there are pockets of true media reform in China, mainly in vertical publications with a very small readership. As for the mainstream media, they may be getting more avant garde, but they all know there is a danger zone, and if they venture into it their lives can be destroyed at the whim of a local official. Scary as hell.

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