Lawsuit targeting journalists criticised
iPod maker accused of bullying by not suing paper that ran labour abuse report
A Taiwanese digital products maker that has filed a defamation lawsuit against two Chinese journalists for reporting on alleged labour abuses at its Shenzhen factory was yesterday criticised by mainland media and academics.
Legal experts also questioned the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court's decision to freeze the two reporters' assets, including their homes, a car and two bank accounts, saying it was biased and unfair to the defendants.
The controversial lawsuit brought by Hongfujin Precision Industry - a major exporter in Shenzhen that is wholly owned by Taiwanese company Foxconn - has caused a nationwide uproar and triggered debate on the internet.
The company, which makes iPod music players for US-based Apple, filed a 30-million-yuan defamation case against the two journalists from China Business News over their report alleging that its staff had to work exceedingly long hours under harsh conditions.
The Shenzhen court accepted the case on July 10 and froze the journalists' personal assets.
While companies occasionally sue publications for reports they consider unfair, Foxconn's lawsuit drew unusually strong criticism from both the media and the public, with many accusing it of trying to gag the press with bullying tactics.
It is seeking the largest sum in damages in a Chinese defamation case, which is also the first such lawsuit against individual journalists in recent years.
'This lawsuit smacks of bullying ... Why does Foxconn pick two individual reporters to sue but not the whole newspaper? It is because they are easier targets and have no financial means to defend themselves. Why does it make such an extreme request for freezing the reporters' assets before the trial starts? Isn't this a way to intimidate people?' read the editorial of the influential Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper.
The plight of journalists Weng Bao and Wang You has won them nationwide sympathy, with many people sending text messages to show their support.
To voice their grievances, the two journalists started a blog on a mainland website that received more than 69,600 hits on its first day.
In the blog, Weng said he was under tremendous pressure. 'It is the most difficult time for me since I began to work in the media 10 years ago.'
A survey by leading mainland internet portal sina.com.cn also showed the majority of the public supported their case. More than 86 per cent of 16,156 respondents believed the journalists did not damage the company's reputation.
Foxconn issued a statement yesterday denying the alleged labour abuses and saying it was obliged to defend its reputation.
'The report said half of the 1,000 workers we [recently] recruited were sick. It is ridiculous and untrue. Our records show that 99 per cent of our workers are healthy and strong,' the statement said.
Foxconn said it was seeking to protect its reputation and would donate any payout to charity.
Apple Computer, meanwhile, is trying to settle the dispute, which has put it in an awkward position.
'Apple is working behind the scenes to help resolve this issue,' spokeswoman Jill Tan told Associated Press.
Foxconn workers interviewed by the South China Morning Post said they were satisfied with their pay and working hours. The workers said they were sometimes asked to work 12 hours a day but it was voluntary.
'They pay us an overtime salary which is 1.5 times our normal pay. Nobody forces us to work overtime. It is all voluntary,' said a man who has worked for Foxconn for three years.
The workers said they made about 1,000 yuan a month on average. The salary for skilled workers would be much higher.
Foxconn is one of Shenzhen's biggest employers and taxpayers.