Mao's former secretary and ex-Xinhua chief among those saying 'once freedom of speech is lost, the authorities can only hear one voice' Former senior officials expressed open support yesterday for China Youth Daily's axed Bingdian Weekly supplement and called for publication to resume. A joint declaration signed by 13 senior intellectuals and retired officials criticising the closure of the supplement last month appeared on overseas Chinese-language websites. The declaration has fuelled speculation at home and abroad that Bingdian's prospects are looking up. A close source to the publication said earlier this week that the push for a resumption of publication was 'progressing positively'. However, others have cautioned that its future is still surrounded by 'too much uncertainty'. Another source close to the publication said: 'Any optimistic speculation is premature considering the complicated situation involving China's social reform.' Many see Bingdian's closure and the mounting public criticism of its fate from intellectuals, dissidents and outspoken retired officials in the past few weeks as evidence of a battle between Communist Party liberals and conservatives. Yesterday's declaration was initiated in Beijing. Signatories included Jiang Ping, a leading legal scholar and former dean of the China University of Politics and Law; Zhu Houze, a former head of the Central Propaganda Department; Li Rui, a former secretary to Mao Zedong ; Li Pu, former Xinhua News Agency director; and Zhang Sizhi, a lawyer who defended Mao's widow, Jiang Qing , when she faced trial after the Cultural Revolution. They said Bingdian's closure was 'not an individual case but a continuation of previous bad management practices such as the closures or reshuffling of editors' at outspoken newspapers including the Beijing News, Southern Metropolis Daily and the Strategy and Management Journal. The declaration said the Central Propaganda Department's 'review and assessment team' had long been exercising 'an illegal control and clamp on public opinions'. 'History proves that only an autocratic system needs a clamp on the press and wants to blind the masses forever,' it said. 'We were all senior revolutionary people inspired by freedom, though we are getting to old age ... but reviewing the lessons of the past seven decades, we know that once the freedom of speech is lost, the authorities can only hear one voice.' They urged the Central Propaganda Department to publish a report on the incident, apologise for Bingdian's closure, and abolish the review and assessment team. They also said they wanted authorities to let Bingdian resume publication completely without taking revenge later and to draft a journalism protection law 'to replace all the vicious media control measures'. Mr Zhang denied that the letter was a surrogate appeal by Bingdian editor Li Datong or its reporters. 'We stand on our own, to be true to our conscience,' the 78-year-old lawyer said. Former Central Propaganda Department head Zhu Houze said: 'A free flow of opinions and information should be allowed for the sake of China's prosperity. To allow people to speak out freely will do no harm to the administration. 'The root cause of the Bingdian closure and other bad practices by the Central Propaganda Department is that our social system reform has not kept pace with economic, market and privatisation reform.' Li Rui, Mao's former secretary, said: 'The Bingdian event is not the first, and won't be the last case to prove the absence of freedom of speech is a long-term shackle that has never been tackled in China.' 'China has encountered much political turbulence and trouble just because of the absence of freedom of speech. All the political campaigns have involved literary inquisitions.'