Unidentified men at an illegal coal mine in Huiyuan County, Shanxi province, severely beat reporter Lan on January 9, leading to his death the following day, according to news reports. 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 by an anonymous poster to an online forum, Tianya. Domestic and international news organizations picked up the report, quoting Zhongguo Maoyi Bao journalists for additional details. Zhongguo Maoyi Bao did not immediately report 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 was sent to Shanxi to investigate and file complaints with local authorities.
Lan and a colleague had arrived at the coal mine when they were surrounded and attacked by unidentified men, according to an online account cited by the Guangzhou newspaper Nanfang Ribao. Lan was beaten severely while the unnamed colleague was restrained and assaulted, according to that account. The two men 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. Police also accused Lan, a former miner, of seeking money from the mine's proprietors in exchange for keeping news of the illegal operation out of the newspaper. CPJ has documented a number of instances of blackmail journalism in China, undertaken by both accredited journalists and people purporting to be journalists. Lan's journalistic status and his intentions were widely debated by Chinese journalists.