Chinese protest outside newspaper gates in rare censorship demo

Mon Jan 7, 2013 5:07am EST
 
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By James Pomfret

GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - Scores of supporters of one of China's most liberal newspapers demonstrated outside its headquarters on Monday in a rare protest against censorship, backing an unusual strike by journalists against interference by the provincial propaganda chief.

The protest in Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong province, comes amid an escalating standoff between the government and the people over press freedom. It is also an early test of Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping's commitment to reform.

The outcry began late last week after reporters at the influential Southern Weekly newspaper accused censors of replacing an original New Year's letter to readers that called for a constitutional government with another piece lauding the party's achievements.

Police allowed the demonstration outside the headquarters of the Southern Group, illustrating that the Guangdong government, led by newly appointed and rising political star Hu Chunhua, wants to tread carefully to contain rising public anger over censorship.

The protesters, most of them young, laid down small hand-written signs that said "freedom of expression is not a crime" and "Chinese people want freedom". Many clutched yellow chrysanthemums, symbolizing mourning the death of press freedom.

"The Nanfang (Southern) Media Group is relatively willing to speak the truth in China so we need to stand up for its courage and support it now," Ao Jiayang, a young NGO worker with bright orange dyed hair, told Reuters.

"We hope that through this we can fight for media freedom in China," Ao said. "Today's turnout reflects that more and more people in China have a civic consciousness."

The attention paid to the protest domestically highlights the unique position of Guangdong, China's wealthiest and most liberal province and the birthplace of the country's "reform and opening up" program. In a symbolic move, Xi chose to go to Guangdong on his first trip after being anointed party chief in November.   Continued...

 
Demonstrators gather along a street near the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, January 7, 2013. REUTERS/James Pomfret