The Hong Kong-based newspaper that reported on the death of Tiananmen activist Li Wangyang has received a bevy of criticism and allegations that it censored itself.
A number of protesters marched to the South China Morning Post’s office on Thursday and burned hundreds of copies of the newspaper, shouting slogans that accused it of not doing enough to report on Li’s death, which occurred under mysterious circumstances.
NTD Television quoted Wilson Li, a Democracy Party committee member who was present at the protests, as saying: “Their editor-in-chief must give a full explanation to his staff, to all journalists, and to the Hong Kong public. The issue now no longer only concerns their newspaper. It is now an issue concerning Hong Kong’s press freedom.”
On June 7, the Post first published a full-length story on Li’s death but later scaled it down to a news brief and placed it in the back pages, the Reuters news agency reported. Li’s death made headlines in a number of Western media, and speculation about his death circulated throughout the Chinese-language Internet.
Alex Price, an editor with the Post, asked in an e-mail exchange with editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei why the story on Li’s death was shortened, saying, “It looks an awful lot like self-censorship,” according to NTD Television.
Wang later responded that he did not have to reply to Price’s question, prompting several senior staff members to sign a petition for full transparency and press freedom at the publication.
The staff members’ action prompted Wang to issue a statement, saying: “I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not try to downplay the Li Wangyang story. This matter should have been resolved in a much more constructive way. However, it gives me an opportunity to state where I stand.” He added that the Post extensively reported on Li’s death in the days after the story broke.
Chinese officials earlier this week ordered an investigation into Li’s death. Li was in prison for more than two decades for attempting to create independent labor unions in Shaoyang City, Hunan Province during the 1989 democracy movement.
Initially, Li’s death was deemed a suicide at the hospital where he was undergoing treatment for diabetes and heart disease. His friends and relatives, however, said the suicide was staged, because he was found hanging from a window security bar with his feet planted on the ground.Li’s family said that Li was blind and nearly deaf from enduring years of torture in prison, which would have made it difficult for him to kill himself. Furthermore, he was found dead just days after he gave an interview with Hong Kong Cable Television.
Some observers inside China believe the powerful Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC), headed by Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) member Zhou Yongkang, arranged Li’s death. The observers believe the date of Li’s death was not a coincidence, because it took place around the time of the June 4 memorial for the Tiananmen Square massacre and during a time of political upheaval in China’s upper-echelon political circles.
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