In a rare case of open resistance by Chinese media against intimidation by the authorities, Guangzhou’s New Express newspaper today published an editorial on its front page appealing directly to its readers following the cross-regional detention of one of its reporters by police from Changsha, the capital of neighboring Hunan province.
Under the bold headline, “Release Him,” the editorial occupies the full front page of today’s New Express. The finer bolded text directly above the headline reads: “Dear Readers, our reporter Chen Yongzhou (陈永洲) reported on financial problems at Zoomlion and was taken into custody by the Changsha police outside their jurisdiction, accused of damaging business prestige. Over this matter, we must speak out.”
Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science & Technology Development is a construction machinery company based in Changsha and listed on both the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges (SZSE: 000157, SEHK: 1157). In a series of 15 news stories published in the New Express between September 2012 and June 2013, Chen Yongzhou alleged that Zoomlion had exaggerated its profits and manipulated the market.
Chen was reportedly taken into custody in Guangzhou more than a week ago by four policeman from Changsha — clearly operating far beyond their jurisdiction — who charged that Chen had “damaged the business reputation” of Zoomlion with his reports. The New Express initially kept quiet about the detention, hoping the matter could be resolved reasonably behind closed doors. Today’s front page editorial, with its acerbic and mocking tone, was apparently a measure taken by the newspaper as a last resort.
Police in Changsha formally announced the arrest of Chen Yongzhou on their official Sina Weibo account yesterday, October 22. The message read simply: “New Express reporter Chen [Yongzhou] was legally detained on October 19 on criminal charges of damaging commercial reputation. The case is now under further investigation.”
The comments directly below the Weibo announcement railed against the Changsha police. “The reporting activities of the New Express are a matter of corporate conduct, so why are you arresting an individual?” one user wrote. “Legal channels must be respected! This kind of thing makes people feel like local police networks truly are despotic!”
“How much money did Zoomlion pay you?” asked another user.
For the moment, coverage of Chen Yongzhou’s arrest is appearing elsewhere on the internet, including on Xinhua News Agency’s website. The case is likely to be relatively non-sensitive so long as it is framed as a case of overbearing conduct by local authorities.
A quick translation of the New Express editorial follows:
Dear Readers, our reporter Chen Yongzhou (陈永洲) reported on financial problems at Zoomlion [a listed global construction machinery company http://en.zoomlion.com/english/about/index.html] and was taken into custody by the Changsha police outside their jurisdiction, accused of damaging business prestige. Over this matter, we must speak out . . .
Please Release Him
*Written by our newspaper’s commentator*
Imagine, you are a journalist, and you write some reports that are critical of a certain company. Then, one day, Uncle Policeman come and arrests you.
Don’t get over-excited. They have their reasons, after all. [They accuse you of] “damaging [the company's] business reputation.” So can’t they investigate you for a few days, or for a few weeks?
Now, our New Express reporter Chen Yongzhou has the misfortune of becoming that poor soul.
We really want to come clean.
Because we have always believed that if we just go out and responsibly do our reporting, there won’t be any problem; and if by chance there are problems, we can print corrections in the newspaper, and apologise [for our errors]. And if things are really serious, we prepare for the courtroom — and if we lose, we pay compensation as it’s demanded. If [given such eventualities] we must close our doors, well then, that’s only what we deserve.
But the facts show that we have been too naive.
When, after three days and three nights [in custody], Chen Yongzhou finally got to see a lawyer, he said he could hold out for another 30 days — longer than that, he dare not say.
He tried to weep but there were no tears.
It must be said that we exercised extreme restraint in dealing with this attack [on our paper] — for five mornings last week, after he was taken away, we didn’t make a sound. Last Saturday, we said nothing. On Sunday, we said nothing. On Monday, we said nothing. Yesterday still, we said nothing.
Why? Because we thought all along that the safety of our lively colleague was the most important thing, and if we could get him back through forbearance and working under the table, this was worth it. We hope readers, and especially our colleagues [in journalism], will forgive us for these decisions, which were so unrighteous, which showed such lack of revolutionary dedication and courage. We were truly cowardly, selfish and shameful.
However, we have no regrets.
Because while the police are strapped with guns and are capable of force, and while Zoomlion pays a lot of taxes to the city of Changsha and has powerful backing, they are still our class brothers, and a disagreement is still a disagreement among the people (人民).
If we were given another opportunity, we would still say: Uncle Policeman, Big Brother Zoomlion, we beg of you, please set Chen Yongzhou free!
If we were given another chance to speak, we would also say:
We have diligently studied all 15 of the reports Chen Yongzhou wrote about Zoomlion, but could only find that we mistakenly wrote what should have been “advertising and entertainment fees of 513 million” as “advertising fees of 513 million.” If Brother Policeman can find any evidence of shabby reporting on our part, please make notice of it and we will gladly doff our hat. Because we still believe that — some day, at least — you will have the same full respect for the law that we have.
We would like to thank those four police officers who came from Changsha for keeping one eye closed, so that yesterday night Chen Yongzhou’s young wife, shaking with cold, could peacefully leave her own home.
We would also like to thank you for not employing your secret weapon to arrest another person you have set your eyes on, the head of our economic news desk. Just for the record, he really isn’t at home. For days, he hasn’t dared to return home. I’m not kidding.
Oh, and to Gao Hui (高辉), the esteemed assistant to the CEO of Zoomlion, we brought a case against you for infringement months ago [for verbally attacking Chen Yongzhou on Sina Weibo and releasing his personal information]. We hope you’ll give us a bit of face and acknowledge the case. We won’t make any sudden moves against you. We pay just a bit of tax every year, and our business is far short of the hundreds of millions [that Zoomlion does].
The Hunan native Zeng Guofan, [an official during the Qing dynasty], once wrote a couplet: “Two old bones can keep a vigorous mind and spirit alive (养活一团春意思，撑起二根穷骨头).” [NOTE: This phrase means, essentially, that you must have a bit of backbone].
Our newspaper may be small, but we have those two bones at least.
Below is an image of one of Chen Yongzhou’s “exclusive” reports about Zoomlion.
The original Chinese version of the piece, as posted to the New Express website, follows: