Taipei, May 9, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Chinese authorities to immediately release Guo Yuzhen, a dairy farmer in Shanxi province whom police detained after she wrote an article alleging that one of the country’s largest dairy producers exploited farmers.
Police from Inner Mongolia’s Hohhot City arrested Guo for “business defamation” on April 17, according to a copy of the arrest warrant published in local media. The security bureau on May 2 changed the charge to “extortion and blackmail,” according to Radio Free Asia and the independent investigative news blog Jianwen.
“Chinese authorities should immediately release Guo Yuzhen without charge,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler in Washington, D.C. “Guo Yuzhen should not be in prison merely for publishing an article alleging foul play at a major corporation. Exposing wrongdoing is an important function of the media, not a crime.”
The arrest is in connection to an article Guo wrote in March, published on websites including the financial news website Huaxun Caijingwang, in which she alleged that Yili Group representatives forced her to sign a false confession claiming that her farm inflated its milk production figures and saying that she would pay a fine of 200,000 yuan (US$31,415). In the article, Guo said that she made audio recordings of her conversations with the Yili Group representatives.
After the article was published, the Agriculture Department of Shanxi Province ordered the Ying County Cattle Agency to set up a meeting between Guo and Yili Group representatives on April 17, according to Jianwen. Guo did not return from the meeting and the family later received a phone call from the security bureau saying that Guo had been detained, according to a report in Jianwen that cited her relatives.
A report in The Paper, a news website with government authorization to operate, said that the Yili Group reported Guo to police for lying and damaging its business. The customer service department of Yili Group did not immediately return CPJ’s emails requesting comment.
An officer at the Hohhot City Security Bureau told CPJ via phone that the bureau is not familiar with Guo’s case and has no further information.
Guo’s article has been reposted on several news service websites including Yuqing Jianduwang, an independent website that covers social injustice, and the independent website Fazi Chenbaowang. The link to the article on Huaxun Caijingwang no longer works. CPJ was unable to find a working number for that publisher to determine if it was asked to remove the article.
Guo is the third person arrested in the past two months for writing critically about Yili Group. On April 6, CPJ documented the arrests of Zou Guangxiang, an independent financial news microblogger, and Liu Chengkun, also a financial news microblogger, over their articles on the dairy group. Both are still in custody, according to reports.