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'Free our man': Chinese paper demands cops free jailed reporter

A woman reads The New Express newspaper that on Wednesday carried a full-page editorial with the headline,
A woman reads The New Express newspaper that on Wednesday carried a full-page editorial with the headline,AFP/Getty Images

BEIJING – A Chinese newspaper made a rare front-page appeal to police to free one of its investigative reporters who was jailed after writing about alleged fraud at a huge state-linked company.

"Please free our man" read the large headline of the editorial on the front of The New Express tabloid, which ran on Wednesday in the southern city of Guangzhou.

The newspaper appealed for the public to press for the release of journalist Chen Yongzhou, who was seized by police from the neighboring Hunan province on Oct. 19 after a series of reports about Zoomlion, a giant engineering firm.

The firm, 20-percent owned by Hunan's provincial government and listed on the stock market, is a major taxpayer to Changsha, Hunan’s capital.

Changsha police formally announced Chen's arrest, and said his reports had damaged Zoomlion’s "business reputation."

"We appeal for the rule of law, respect for facts and protection of legitimate news reporting," said The New Express via Sina Weibo, China's popular Twitter-like microblogging service. The paper also thanked the public for the "groundswell of support and assistance."

Chen's arrest comes amid an ongoing campaign against the "spreading of rumors" that has targeted journalists and bloggers. Some 250,000 Chinese journalists across China have also been required to attend special government-sponsored study sessions.

China's media are highly controlled by the government at various levels, and the spectacle of open defiance is rare.

Chen's reports purported to show fraudulent accounting and inflated profit figures at Zoomlion. The company countered that Chen's reports were "false and misleading.”

The New Express said it had reviewed Chen's reporting and found his articles sound. 

Legitimate reporting, freedom of the press and the supervising role of public opinion must be distinguished from issues of business reputation, according to the newspaper.

"If 'Brother Policeman' can find evidence of shabby reporting on our part, please make notice and we will gladly take off our hat. Because we still believe that -- someday at least -- you will have the same full respect for the law that we have," the newspaper declared.

The New Express remained defiant in its latest Weibo statement, and said that it will regularly update as the case develops.

"We are a small newspaper, but we have a backbone," added the editorial.