Two reporters beaten as gag on case tightens

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 May, 2009, 12:00am

Two reporters were beaten in Hubei's Badong county as local authorities sealed off the epicentre of a scandal involving a cadre allegedly killed by a hotel pedicurist.

Two reporters - Kong Pu from the Beijing Times and Wei Yi from the Nangfang People Weekly - were beaten yesterday morning by officials in Yesanguan town, according to media sources. They were interviewing a grandmother of the 21-year-old pedicurist, Deng Yujiao .

The reporters were left bruised by the attack and both had their cameras smashed, the sources said. They were detained from 1pm to 5pm, and there were a number of security personnel monitoring their hotel after their release. Both reporters said they had proper media credentials.

A media gag was introduced by central government censors on Tuesday. News organisations were ordered to halt their reporting on the case and recall reporters from Hubei, saying the case was under judicial investigation.

Deng's plight has sparked one of the biggest civil rights movements on the mainland in recent years as various groups showed their solidarity with her. Many netizens and reporters have travelled to Yesanguan to follow the case voluntarily.

But a group of five women's rights activists who arrived in Yesanguan on Monday said the town was eerily quiet because access to it had been cut by local authorities.

'We were told by local residents that the ferry from Yichang to Badong had been suspended since Tuesday,' said Zhou Li, one of the activists. 'Every vehicle entering Badong county is being checked. If drivers or passengers are not locals, they are told to turn back.'

Ms Zhou said hotels in the town had been told not to receive outsiders. Some shops had even been shut since Wednesday.

'We've been followed by more than a dozen plain-clothes police since we arrived in Badong. Now, the electricity and water supply to our hotel has been cut off. They are trying to make us give in,' said Ms Zhou.

'Five Yesanguan officials, including the chief of police, came [on Wednesday night] and asked us to leave. They said they could not guarantee our safety if we stay here. We came here to show support for the powerless and anger at officialdom. We'll be here until the end.'

The dead official, Deng Guida, the head of a trade promotion department in the town, reportedly demanded 'special services' - a euphemism for sex - from Deng at Yesanguan's Xiongfeng hotel on May 10. In the presence of a subordinate, he threw money in her face and pushed her to the sofa several times before she stabbed him with a fruit knife. The subordinate was injured.

The reported behaviour of the officials sparked fury among netizens, and this was heightened when local authorities appeared to tone down the description of the officials' activities in a way that could see them avoid charges of demanding sexual services or rape.

On Wednesday, Deng was released from custody and placed under house arrest.

Commentators said the move would help to address public mistrust in the government. They also said the house arrest could be an indication of official back-pedalling from the earlier murder charges and an attempt to defuse public anger.