Paper goes public over reporter’s detention

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.

New Express frontpage call

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.

Changsha Police Weibo

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.

zoomlion

The original Chinese version of the piece, as posted to the New Express website, follows:

各位读者,我们的记者陈永洲报道了中联重科财务问题,然后他就被长沙警方跨省抓走了,罪名是涉嫌损害商业信誉。对此,我们要呐喊——

  请放人

  敝报虽小,穷骨头,还是有那么两根的

  ■本报评论员

  假如,你是个记者,写了些批评某公司的报道。有一天,警察叔叔把你抓了。

  请你不要激动。人家是有理由的——“涉嫌损害商业信誉罪”——关你几天、几十天,查查总可以吧?

  现在,我们新快报的记者陈永洲,不幸成为了那个倒霉的家伙。

  我们很想抽自己两耳光。

  因为我们一直以为,只要负责任地去做报道,就不会有问题;万一出现问题,我们登报更正,致歉;实在严重,对簿公堂,输了官司,该怎么赔就怎么赔,该关门就关门,那也是活该。

  但事实证明,我们太天真了。

  陈永洲在熬过三天三夜,终于见到律师时说,他可以熬个三十天,多了,就不敢说了。

  欲哭无泪。

  应该说,我们对这个突如其来的打击保持了极大的克制——上周五上午,人被带走了,我们没有吭声;上周六,我们没有吭声;星期天,我们没有吭声;星期一,我们没有吭声;昨天,我们还是没有吭声。

  因为,我们总是想,人的安全是第一位的,如果台底下的隐忍和努力能换回来一个活泼泼的同事,是值得的——请读者诸君尤其是同行们原谅,我们这样做,没有顾及公义,没有为革命而牺牲而献身的勇气,真的很懦弱,真的很自私,真的很可耻。

  但是,我们不后悔。

  因为警察叔叔虽然别着枪,很威武,中联重科虽然给长沙交了很多税,很强大,但毕竟都还是阶级弟兄,有矛盾也是人民内部矛盾嘛。

  如果上天再给我们一次机会,我们还是会说:警察叔叔,中联大哥,求求你,放了陈永洲吧!

  如果上天只给我们一个说话的机会,我们会说:

  我们认真核查过陈永洲对中联重科的所有的15篇批评报道中,仅有的谬误在于将“广告费及招待费5.13亿”错写成了“广告费5.13亿”。如果警察叔叔发现了敝报虽力尽而不能发掘之证据,敬请公示,我们一定脱帽致敬。因为我们仍然相信——至少会有那么几天吧——你们和我们一样,对法律具有完整之尊重。

  我们要谢谢长沙来的四个警察叔叔,是你们闭起一只眼,昨天夜里陈永洲瑟瑟发抖的幼妻才能从自己家里平安出走了。

  我们还要谢谢你们,没有动用高端大气上档次的秘密武器,把你们认定的可疑分子、经济中心主任一举抓获。顺便说一句,他真的不在家里,早几天就不敢回家了。真的。

  哦,还有高辉,敬爱的中联重科董事长助理,我们几个月前已经起诉你侵权了,希望你给点面子,应个诉啥的,我们不会突然把你拿下的——我们每年交的税很少的,营业额也远远没有几百亿。

  你们的老乡,湖南人曾国藩写过一个对联,“养活一团春意思,撑起二根穷骨头”。敝报虽小,穷骨头,还是有那么两根的。

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