China press freedom campaign swells with new rally

January 09, 2013 - 12:36:20 am

GUANGZHOU, China: Protesters rallied yesterday for a second day to call for press freedom in China, as social media users and celebrities backed a campaign which poses a test for the nation’s new leaders.

Scores of people, some carrying mourning flowers, gathered outside the Guangzhou offices of the Southern Weekly, a popular liberal paper which had an article urging greater protection of rights censored.

“The government is using the media for their purposes,” said a 24-year-old man surnamed Leung. “If we don’t step out now to support this newspaper and call for greater freedom, our society will have less and less space for freedom.”

Some demonstrators wore masks depicting British revolutionary figure Guy Fawkes, adopted as an anarchist symbol internationally after being popularised in the film “V for Vendetta” — which was recently broadcast on state television.

Police stood by, allowing the rally to proceed. As it dispersed for the day a lone woman demonstrator stood outside the building, holding a white rose and raising one hand, making a victory sign with her fingers.

Some protesters traded insults with around a dozen rivals who showed support for the authorities. A few held up portraits of Mao Zedong, the founding father of communist China.

Protests about explicitly political issues such as rights are very rare in China. The dispute comes after the ruling party’s new leadership headed by Xi Jinping took over in November, raising expectations of a more open style of governance.

The second day of demonstrations came after bloggers and celebrities — some with millions of followers — voiced support online for freedom of the press.

Yao Chen, an actress who has 32 million followers, posted the paper’s logo on China’s Twitter-like Weibo service and quoted Russian dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world”.

Fellow actor Chen Kun, who has 27 million followers, replied: “I am not that deep, and don’t play with words, I support the friends at Southern Weekly”.

Media outlets are subject to directives from official propaganda departments, which often suppress news seen as negative by the communist authorities.

The row erupted after censors blocked Southern Weekly’s New Year message calling for the realisation of a “dream of constitutionalism in China”. They replaced it with an article in praise of the Communist Party, according to journalists.

In an open letter, journalists blamed provincial propaganda official Tuo Zhen and called for his resignation. AFP

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