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Second reporter arrested after investigating suspected corruption in China province

Homeless in Shanxi: A homeless man begs on a street in Taiyuan, Shanxi province December 12, 2008. Photo: Reuters

Press freedom groups are calling for transparency in the investigation of two journalists arrested on bribery charges in northern Shanxi province.

Shanxi public security officials told local journalists on Monday that Guan Jian, a reporter for Beijing-based weekly Wangluo Bao (Network News) who had been missing for 15 days, is in custody in neighbouring Hubei province on suspicion of accepting bribes, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reported quoting local reports. According to Chinese law, authorities must inform family or colleagues of an arrest within 24 hours.

In a separate case, four plainclothes officers from Taiyuan arrested another journalist, Li Min, from state-run China Central Television—also on bribery charges—in her Beijing home on December 4, according to Beijing Qingnian Bao (Beijing Youth Daily).

"Investigations into bribery charges should be transparent and fully conducted according to Chinese law," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia programme coordinator. "We are concerned that bribery allegations can be easily fabricated to wrongfully imprison journalists who dig too deeply in an investigation."

“Abuse of authority by local officials is common in this region, which is biggest source of coal in China and is riddled with corruption,” Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “It is becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists to investigate corruption allegations involving officials. We urge the central government to investigate these cases and punish those who are really guilty.”

Guan Jian had been reporting on irregular land deals involving a local real estate company in Taiyuan, Shanxi's capital, for his newspaper, a Science Times Media Group publication affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Security surveillance footage in a hotel in the city shows five men bundling Guan into a waiting vehicle on December 1. He has not been in contact with family or colleagues since then. Guan's son, Guan Yufei, reported his father missing to local police on December 7, according to Beijing-based financial news magazine Caijing.

Public security officials in the city of Zhangjiakou in neighbouring Hebei province told local journalists on Tuesday that Guan had been detained on suspicion of accepting bribes in Taiyuan on December 1, Caijing reported, but no explanation for the 15-day lapse before making his status public was published.

Authorities have accused CCTV journalist Li Min of accepting gifts from the brother of a businessman involved in a corruption story she was working on. Some local commentators questioned the fact that the arrest was ordered by a Shanxi district prosecutor implicated in Li's report. But the country's highest agency responsible for prosecutions and investigations, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, approved the district prosecutor's jurisdiction over the case despite the possible conflict of interest, local news reports said.

Corrupt practices exist in Chinese journalism. Gifts or cash payments, made to those carrying press credentials in return for publishing or withholding a story, are common practice, leading to concerns among local media analysts about editorial integrity, according to CPJ.

Recent debates about media ethics have cited several cases from Shanxi province. Local journalist Lan Chenzhang was beaten to death at the site of a Shanxi mine accident in January 2007. Police accused him of posing as a journalist to extort money from the mine owners. In October, Hong Kong University's China Media Project website reported Chinese newspapers had raised the issue again following another mining disaster in Shanxi's Linfen city. Some journalists—and people posing as journalists—reportedly lined up to receive "gag fees" in exchange for suppressing the story.

"There is no question that local authorities in China are in the habit of using charges of corruption to target reporters who are uncovering stories," David Bandurski, at the China Media Project, told CPJ by email. "But there is also little question that corruption in China's media is a worsening problem. A general lack of transparency and fairness—in the press, in the courts, in law enforcement—makes it very difficult to know what to make of any one particular case," Bandurski said.

Date posted: December 17, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 361