China: Weekly supplement to reopen without key editors

New York, February 16, 2006— The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by an official decision to remove two prominent editors as a condition to allow the reopening of the China Youth Daily weekly supplement Bing Dian (Freezing Point).

Editors Li Datong and Lu Yuegang told international reporters that Bing Dian, which was shuttered in late January for publishing an essay criticizing the 19th century Chinese history taught in textbooks, would re-open on March 1. But the two editors have been transferred to the News Research Institute, another department of the daily newspaper. The supplement will also be required to print an article criticizing the January 11 essay.

“We are alarmed that the government has chosen to punish two such strong-minded editors as Li Datong and Lu Yuegang for their work,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We join with our colleagues in China who believe that punishing publications like Bing Dian is poisonous to the ideals of free expression, and robs the public of independent reporting on issues of crucial importance to the country’s development.”

Li had appealed to central authorities to protest the closure of Bing Dian. “This exterminates the soul of Freezing Point, leaving an empty shell,” Li told Reuters news agency today.

The Central Propaganda Department’s January 24 order to shut down Bing Dian has come under unusually heavy fire inside China from some unexpected quarters. Thirteen Communist Party elders, including Li Rui, the official biographer of Mao Zedong, and former Propaganda chief Zhu Houze, decried the order as an example of “malignant management’ and an “abuse of power,” according to The New York Times.

“History demonstrates that only a totalitarian system needs news censorship, out of the delusion that it can keep the public locked in ignorance,” the Party members wrote in the letter, according to Reuters. They predicted that government control of the media would lead to social unrest and harm the country’s political transition.

Officials have defended the closure of Bing Dian, saying it hurt national feelings and violated the news propaganda guidelines by publishing a January 11 essay by Yuan Weishi that described Chinese history textbooks as having ideological bias.

Lu and Li have both been outspoken critics of government censorship. Li has told international reporters that criticism of Yuan’s essay was a pretext for silencing Bing Dian, which has won the respect of readers in China for its strong investigative reporting.