July 19, 2016 / 5:41 AM / a year ago

Liberal Chinese magazine shuts amid forced management reshuffle

BEIJING (Reuters) - A leading liberal magazine in China has halted publication after a sudden forced reshuffle of its leadership team that its lawyer on Tuesday blamed on an official effort to stifle voices that disagree with the ruling Communist Party.

Founded in 1991, the magazine, Yanhuang Chunqiu, also known as China Through the Ages, is known for articles challenging party views on sensitive issues, such as political reform and the Cultural Revolution. It has been seen as a forum for more reform-minded officials.

Last week, the Chinese National Academy of Arts, which is technically in charge of the magazine, decided to demote or replace its leadership, including publisher Du Daozheng, 92.

In a statement dated on Sunday and circulated online, Du said the magazine would stop publishing, accusing the academy of violating freedom of publication and of sending people to force their way into the newsroom and seize control of the website.

The academy did not answer repeated telephone calls to seek comment. China's publishing regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, also did not respond to requests for comment.

The magazine's lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told Reuters the party had clearly decided it had had enough of the magazine.

"It is the only magazine that speaks the truth," Mo said. "They don't want the magazine to exist anymore."

Du is currently in hospital, Mo said, and cannot be reached for comment by the media.

President Xi Jinping, who assumed office more than three years ago, has overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent and civil society, including tightening controls on freedom of the press and detaining dozens of rights activists.

The Chinese government denies any human rights or freedom of expression abuses, saying it is going after those who break the law.

The magazine has been in hot water before. In 2011, its website was shut after it called for political reform.

Last month, a Beijing court ordered its former chief editor, Hong Zhenkuai, to apologize for articles that cast doubt on the story of the "Five Warriors of Mount Langyashan", whom party history credits with having jumped from a cliff rather than surrender to Japanese invaders during World War Two.

"Free speech is not without boundaries, and it should be protected on the premise that it does not infringe on other people's legal rights," state media quoted one of the judges as telling Hong.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by John Ruwitch and Clarence Fernandez

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