The former general manager of Guangzhou's popular Southern Metropolis News started an appeal against his convictions for corruption and bribery yesterday in a case widely seen as a barometer of media controls in Guangdong. Yu Huafeng , 35, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in March for taking 1.56 million yuan of the company's money and paying a 970,000 yuan bribe to Li Minying , a former director of the newspaper's parent group. Li has been jailed for 11 years. Critics say the men are victims of a campaign by Guangdong officials to bring the once-outspoken tabloid newspaper into line. Yu's lawyer, Xu Zhiyong , confirmed that Yu's appeal started in the Dongshan District People's Court. 'No verdict was announced and the court session will continue for the next few days,' said Mr Xu. The paper's former editor-in-chief, Cheng Yizhong , was arrested in March and will go on trial this Saturday charged with embezzlement. Cheng has been widely credited with turning the Southern Metropolis News into one of the mainland's most popular but controversial newspapers. But its exposes on last year's Sars outbreak and police brutality in Guangdong apparently angered provincial leaders. Frank Lu Siqing , who runs a human rights centre in Hong Kong, said the fact that Yu's appeal was not instantly thrown out of court could signal a softening on the issue among Guangdong's top leaders. He suggested that the case had drawn the attention of cadres throughout Guangdong who had written to provincial party secretary Zhang Dejiang cautioning that the crackdown on the newspaper might not be fair.