Officials attempt to arrest reporter for defamation

JANUARY 4, 2008
Posted January 25, 2008

Zhu Wenna, Faren Zazhi

Police and local officials from Xifeng in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning traveled nearly 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) to Beijing with a warrant to arrest reporter Zhu Wenna in a defamation case on January 4, according to Reuters and The Washington Post.

Zhu had written a report on January 1 for Faren Zazhi, a magazine distributed with the Fazhi Ribao (Legal Daily)newspaper, about a case in Xifeng County implicating local party secretary Zhang Zhiguo, according to the Post. Her report accused Zhang of detaining a local woman, Zhao Junping, for tax evasion and defamation via text message, after Zhao protested she had been unfairly compensated when her gas station was demolished in 2006 to make way for a building development. Zhao had subsequently been imprisoned for about nine months, the Post said.

Zhu’s article sparked the interest of the national news media, which picked up the story on January 2, according to an analysis by David Bandurski on the China Media Project Web site.

Zhao Junhua, sister of the imprisoned Zhao Junping, was interrogated by police on January 3 on the grounds that she must have paid the Beijing reporter to come so far to report the story, Bandurski wrote. On January 4, two Xifeng officials in charge of propaganda and the law committee appeared at the Faren Zazhi Beijing office to present Zhu with a written statement denying the charges against Zhang Zhiguo. When the magazine refused to issue a clarification, the officials returned with three Xifeng police officers and a warrant for Zhu’s arrest for defamation. Zhu fled her office before receiving the warrant, according to The Washington Post.   

Defamation can be a criminal offence in China, but unless it is deemed a grave threat to public order or national interest, it is usually treated as a civil issue outside police jurisdiction. County-level defamation charges against citizens and reporters critical of local officials are on the rise in China, according to CPJ research.

Public opinion in print editorials and comments left on Web sites roundly condemned the officials’ move, reports said. Guangzhou-based daily Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News) reported that Xifeng officials had issued a verbal apology to Zhu and her work uniton January 8. Zhu, who was lying low after the accusations and still feared arrest, was not available to respond to the apology, Nanfang Dushi Bao said. The report quoted Faren Zazhi editor Ruan Jiawen as saying that Zhu did not plan to accept a formal apology but was interested in turning the tables on the county official and suing Zhang in turn for libel.