Reporters Without Borders today deplored a physical attack on two foreign journalists by militiamen and thugs in a village in southern China and the news blackout which local leaders have imposed on corruption and mafia-style activities there.
The attack on Malaysian journalist Leu Siew Ying of the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post and French journalist Abel Segretin of Radio France Internationale (RFI) took place on 7 October in the village of Tai shi in Pan yu district, in the southern province of Guang dong.
They went to Tai shi to investigate reports of corruption involving village leaders but were attacked outside the village by some 20 individuals who appeared to be thugs hired by the local authorities. Repeatedly punched and beaten on the back of their heads, they refused to comply with demands to surrender their identity papers until the police came.
“These mercenaries were furious when they discovered we were journalists,” Segretin told Reporters Without Borders. “Even the police feared these apparent gangsters and quickly drove us away, locking the doors of the car.” They were taken to a police station and were released soon afterwards. Both were very shaken by the experience.
The day before the incident, the Guang dong authorities had officially arrested Yang Maodong, a lawyer better known as Guo Fleixiong, who had been in custody for three weeks for “disturbing the peace” at a 13 September demonstration in Tai shi at which he called for the resignation of village leader Chen Jinshen for alleged embezzlement.
Among other things, Guo accused Chen of selling village land to construction companies without the permission of residents. Hundreds of armed police raided Tai shi the day after the demonstration and arrested dozens of villagers.
Reporters Without Borders called for the immediate release of Guo, who had posted many messages on websites such as the Chinese human rights site Peacehall and the online forum Yannan defending the rights of villagers who have been stripped of their land.
Among the Tai shi affair’s many repercussions on press freedom has been the closure of the Yannan online forum on 30 September.
Tai shi is now under a virtual state of siege, with residents being closely watched and banned from talking to journalists. Chinese journalists who tried to investigate found that their newspapers were told to reprint an article from a local newspaper that supposedly provides all “necessary information” and dismisses the allegations against Chen.