Media blackout on baby boy strangled to death by car thief
A media blackout had been imposed on further coverage of the high-profile death of the two-month-old baby boy apparently killed by a car thief who stole the father's SUV in Changchun, Jilin province.
A search for the infant boy, Xu Haobo, and the thief appeared to end in tragedy on Tuesday when a 48-year-old man turned himself in to police and said he had choked the baby to death.
The killing shocked millions, and left many people heartbroken and expressing outrage online and in mainland media.
Thousands of Jilin residents braved the freezing cold on Tuesday night at Changchun's snow-covered Culture Plaza to mourn for Xu.
However, local coverage of the tragic incident is expected to be absent from newspapers and news broadcasts from today, as two reporters from different Changchun media outlets said yesterday that censors had ordered an end to coverage of the death.
"We all feel sad and angry, but we are forced to drop any plans to run more stories on the case," a Changchun-based radio reporter said on condition of anonymity.
The ban came after the victim's family, and an increasing number of internet users, blamed police for failing to find the vehicle in time to save the baby, despite the city being full of video-surveillance cameras intended to monitor the public.
The New Culture News, a popular local newspaper, was silent about the tragedy on its official microblog account yesterday, after it had covered it extensively on Monday with dozens of posts giving followers up-to-the-minute information on the search.
Media sources said a provincial propaganda directive released on Tuesday stated that "no follow-up stories may be published from March 6" unless an arrangement had been reached with the Jilin government.
The directive also restricted coverage in yesterday's papers, saying that no reports about the incident could be placed on front pages, and any coverage inside had to be limited to half a page, while television stations were prohibited from running features or extensive reports. All media were told not to question or criticise the actions of police, but instead positively highlight their efforts. Comments critical of the confessed killer were allowed.
The infant's uncle, Li Chunkuo , directed his frustration at police in comments in the Shanghai Morning Post yesterday. "Did police officers even try to search for the vehicle?" Li said.
The kidnapping occurred at 7.20am on Monday, after the boy's father parked his SUV outside a convenience store where he worked. He told police he wanted the child to stay warm until the store had warmed up. When he returned, the SUV and child were gone.
About 20 minutes later, Changchun police called for public assistance on their microblog in finding the SUV and baby.
The suspect, Zhou Xijun , turned himself in to police on Tuesday evening and said he had choked the baby to death before 8.20am on Monday and buried the body in the snow about 40 kilometers from where he stole the car. The SUV was found abandoned a further 20 kilometres away.
Although Zhou, 48, was arrested and confessed to the theft and killing, two people said the suspect looked like he was about 30, media reported. The discrepancy led to online rumours that Zhou confessed to crimes committed by someone else. Police did not comment on this.