Lawyers talk to detained New Express reporter

Representatives of Guangzhou newspaper meet journalist taken by Hunan police over claims reports damaged local company's reputation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 October, 2013, 3:46am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 October, 2013, 4:46am

The legal representatives of the Guangzhou-based New Express arrived in Changsha yesterday to meet a reporter who was taken away by Hunan police in Guangzhou and whose case has sparked concern in central government departments.

Analysts said senior officials are keen to settle the case in a peaceful and lawful way ahead of a key party plenum next month.

Chen Yongzhou, the detained business reporter with New Express, was seized in the Guangdong capital and taken to Changsha last Friday morning.

Chen had reported on an alleged fraud at Zoomlion, the second largest maker of construction equipment on the mainland. Hunan police accused him of "fabricating facts in his reportage" and "damaging the company's commercial reputation".

Based in Changsha, Zoomlion is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, and since news of Chen's arrest surfaced on Wednesday, its stock price fell by as much as 11.6 per cent, closing at HK$6.70 yesterday. The Hang Seng Index dropped by 2.6 per cent in the same period. The company's shares trading in Shenzhen also dropped by as much as 8.6 per cent over the past three days, and closed at 5.45 yuan (HK$6.89) yesterday.

Chen's wife, who declined to be named, told reporters yesterday he was in good condition.

"He told me to take care of myself and not to worry about him. He said folks there have been treating him well," she said.

She was still waiting last night for updates from lawyers who were believed to have met Chen for a second time yesterday afternoon. Their first meeting was held three days after Chen was detained, when he told them that he doubted he could hold out for more than 30 days.

After publishing two front-page appeals calling for Chen's release, which aroused an outpouring of public support on the mainland, the tabloid did not continue with its plea yesterday. While other mainland newspaper also stopped carrying news on Chen, discussion online remained lively.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the officially sanctioned All-China Journalists' Association and the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio Film and Television intervened and expressed concern about Chen's detention.

The association urged Hunan authorities to produce a justification for Chen's arrest.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that growing pressure from journalists had prompted government-backed organisations to intervene.

"If a company objects to an article it doesn't like, they should question the article. That's just the journalist's job. If the government bans such arrests of journalists, then that would be a big step forward," Cabestan said.

"There is still much uncertainty, but I expect that the journalist eventually will be released, and maybe there will be more civilised procedures put in place for questioning journalists.

"The final decision will be made by the propaganda department, so at the very least [propaganda chief] Liu Qibao will be involved, and [propaganda tsar] Liu Yunshan ."

Bo Zhiyue, of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, said the incident had pushed mainland media workers - who are finding it increasingly difficult to do their jobs - into a corner with little room to manoeuvre.

"Basically, what is at stake is freedom of the press," Bo said.