A spokesman for the highly regarded Chinese financial and economic magazine Caixin on Wednesday declined to comment on the deletion of a recent article hitting out at government censorship from its website in recent days.
"I won't say much more about this," Zhang Lihui, public relations executive at the offices of the Caixin website, told RFA on Wednesday. "Actually, we're not commenting on this matter at all."
"If you want any further information, you can send me an e-mail," he said.
The sudden reticence at the cutting-edge media organization comes a day after an article hitting out at censorship of calls for greater freedom of expression was deleted on Tuesday.
The article, titled "Story About Adviser's Free Speech Comments Removed From Caixin Website," had recycled quotes from a March 3 interview with government economic adviser Jiang Hong that had also been deleted.
"An article based on the interview was posted on the news website, but on March 5 it was deleted by the Cyberspace Administration of China, a government censorship organ, because it contained 'illegal content,'" said the March 8 Caixin article, which has now been replaced by a 404 error notice.
It said Jiang had told Caixin that the ruling Communist Party has a tradition of "listening to different opinions" and that the right of people to speak freely was enshrined in the country’s constitution.
The administration told Caixin’s editors that the [March 3] article "violated laws and regulations," the March 8 article said, quoting Jiang as saying that the removal of the March 3 article was "terrible and bewildering."
The March 8 article quoted Politburo standing committee member Yu Zhengsheng as saying that delegates to the National People's Congress (NPC) parliamentary session in Beijing this week "should be supported in giving criticism and expressing opinions."
Not happy with censorship
There are further signs that not everyone in the Chinese political establishment is happy with the extent of government censorship, which has been ramped up to unprecedented levels under the administration of President Xi Jinping.
On Sunday, the Global Times, a newspaper with close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, ran an interview with Jiang, who said the deletion of news reports isn't an isolated phenomenon.
"We see many cases of deleting posts and blocking websites on the Internet," the paper quoted him as saying.
"That being the case, we need to think about whether decisions to block some content in the past were made on legal grounds or not," Jiang told the paper.
Jiang, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee and a professor from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, has said he is thinking of tabling proposals at the NPC to ensure legal protection for the right to free expression.
The Global Times also cited party-backed newspaper the China Discipline Inspection Daily as expressing protest at the level of censorship.
"A thousand yes-men cannot compare with one person who criticizes frankly," it quoted the paper as saying.
Online writer Ye Du cited the recent deletion of a social media account belonging to property tycoon and celebrity tweeter Ren Zhiqiang.
"But online suppression didn't start with Ren Zhiqiang," Ye said. "It began about three years ago with the [Sept. 1, 2013] regulations banning online rumors."
"This set the model for the whole system, and it's not going to change just because one or two people call for change."
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Kou Tianli for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.