“We applaud President Hu Jintao’s call for a thorough investigation into the savage murder of Lan Chengzhang, and we hope it results in the successful prosecution of those responsible,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “High-level intervention is needed to combat the growing problem of violence against Chinese journalists, a problem that seriously threatens the ability of the press to report on crime and corruption.”
Chinese state media reported that Hu and other top officials had issued formal instructions to local authorities calling for a swift investigation of the case and a prompt report.
Lan was hired by the Shanxi bureau of Zhongguo Maoyi Bao less than a month before he was killed, his employers said. Along with colleague Chang Hanwen, he arrived at the site of an illegally operated coal mine to interview mine boss Hou Zhenrun on the afternoon of January 9. Hou, who was arrested on Friday, is suspected of ordering at least seven men to attack the journalists. Chang’s arm was broken in the attack, and Lan died the next day.
Lan’s killing provoked public anger, and sparked an unusual debate online and in the Chinese media about Lan’s status as a reporter. Because Lan was hired locally, police say he was not accredited to conduct interviews.
Datong authorities have also accused the two journalists of trying to collect money from the mine boss, according to Chinese news reports. It is common for corrupt mine owners to pay off reporters, or those pretending to be reporters, for their silence. But colleagues told reporters that the two men were engaged in a legitimate effort to pursue a news lead.
“Chang Hanwen denied that they were trying to blackmail the coal mine owners. He told us they got a tip-off that there was an accident at the colliery and a number of miners were killed. They went there to follow this lead,” News Editor Wang Jianfeng told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.