In China, reporter beaten to death at illegal mine

New York, January 16, 2007—Unidentified men at an illegal coal mine in Huiyuan County, Shanxi Province, severely beat reporter Lan Chengzhang on January 9, leading to his death the following day, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating to determine whether Lan’s death was connected to his journalism, and it called on authorities to bring the killers to justice.

“We’re appalled at the brutal killing of reporter Lan Chengzhang and call on national authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into his death,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Violence against journalists is on the rise in China, and it will continue to put the press in danger unless authorities at the national level make a real effort to investigate these cases and punish those responsible.”

Lan had been working for the Shanxi bureau of the Beijing-based newspaper Zhongguo Maoyi Bao (China Trade News) for less than a month, his colleagues told international and domestic reporters.

The death was first reported late last week by an anonymous poster to an online forum, Tianya. Domestic and international news organizations picked up the report in recent days, quoting Zhongguo Maoyi Bao journalists for additional details. Zhongguo Maoyi Bao has not reported on the case itself.

“He was beaten to death by a group of mining thugs,” Wang Jianfeng, head of the paper’s news department, told Agence France-Presse, adding that a newspaper team had been sent to Shanxi to investigate and to file complaints with local authorities. “We will do everything we can to protect the rights of journalists.”

Lan and a colleague arrived to report on the coal mine when they were surrounded and attacked by unidentified men, according to the initial online account cited by the Guangzhou newspaper Nanfang Ribao. Lan was beaten severely while the unnamed colleague was restrained and assaulted to a lesser degree, according to that account. The journalists drove to a hospital in nearby Datong, where Lan died at 9 a.m. the next day.

Local officials claimed Lan did not have official certification so he was not a legitimate journalist, according to Nanfang Ribao. The city of Datong recently initiated a campaign to eradicate “fake” journalism by people who pretend to be reporters for the purpose of extorting money from corrupt officials and businessmen.

Officials quoted by the newspaper also said that it was inaccurate to say that Lan was beaten to death since he died the next day.

Violence against legitimate journalists has risen in China. In 2006, Taizhou editor Wu Xianghu died from injuries sustained in a police beating months earlier, according to CPJ research.