BEIJING—Chinese police are investigating the death of a reporter beaten up while probing the country's deadly coal mines, media reported on Wednesday amid a growing outcry.
Lan Chengzhang, who worked for the China Trade News, died of an apparent brain haemorrhage on Jan. 10 after he was beaten while visiting a mine in Hunyuan county in the northern province of Shanxi, an editor with the paper told Reuters.
“That's what we've heard, but the local authorities haven't given us an official explanation yet,” said the editor, Wang Jianfeng.
Communist Party censors strictly control the Chinese press, but even state-controlled media have seized on Lan's death, raising questions about local officials' conduct, Lan's motives, and the rights of the country's beleaguered reporters.
“For a reporter to be beaten to death is undoubtedly a major event in a world that venerates democracy and freedom of information,” said a comment on the Web site of the Southern Daily (www.southerncn.com).
“Any country that even slightly values citizens' right to know and freedom of the press would actively and appropriately investigate and deal with this case.”
Shanxi officials have said Lan was not an accredited reporter and suggested that he might have been seeking payoffs in return for not reporting problems at the mine, China Youth Daily said.
But Trade News editor-in-chief said Lan was “certainly a real reporter” and Chinese newspapers said Lan's lack of official approval was no excuse to beat him.
“I don't know whether Lan Chengzhang was reporting or blackmailing, but it is ignorant and disgraceful to absolve thugs of responsibility by citing blackmail,” commented the Southern Metropolitan Daily, a tabloid based in Guangzhou, on Wednesday.
The Trade News chief reporter in Shanxi, who gave his surname as Chang, said editors from the paper and officials from China's official journalists association were now there investigating Lan's death.
“We take the issue seriously, and after we got the information, we sent staff to investigate,” Li Cunhou, the Communist Party secretary of the association, told Reuters.
“If it concerned a real journalist, we will protect his rights and deal with the issue severely.”
Shanxi has assigned 70 police officers to investigate the beating and death, the Metropolitan Daily reported.
Chinese journalists who went to investigate Lan's death were blocked by police from entering the hospital where he died, igniting a clash between reporters and police, it said.
China's coal mines are the deadliest of any major producer, and Shanxi, with its abundance of mines, is a focus of official efforts to reduce fatalities.
A total of 4,746 Chinese coal miners were killed in about 3,000 blasts, floods and other accidents last year, down 20.1 percent from 2005, the State Work Safety Supervision Administration said last week.
In 2006, prosecutors in Shanxi investigated 135 people for dereliction of safety duties linked to mine accidents and 66 were convicted, CCP-controlled Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.
An official in the Hunyuan local government said he had heard of the death but knew no details. He said the county had shut down all unlicensed mines.
Another city in Shanxi said last month that it had rounded up 80 people claiming to be “reporters” who extorted money from officials and owners of illegal mines by threatening exposure.