A court in the Chinese capital has refused to accept a lawsuit filed by the former editors of the cutting-edge political magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu against the arts institute that owns it following a major change of leadership imposed from above.
The Chaoyang District People's Court in Beijing rejected the bid to file the lawsuit after the application was made on Friday, lawyer Mo Shaoping told RFA.
"They told me verbally at the window where you file lawsuits that the case wouldn't be accepted," Mo told RFA. "I asked for an official letter of refusal, but they didn't give me any documents."
He said under current judicial procedure, a documentary refusal should be issued, so that the would-be litigant can appeal the decision.
"The litigant may, if they disagree with the decision, appeal to a higher level of People's Court," Mo said. "They have actually broken the law by not issuing a written decision."
The refusal comes after officials from the Xicheng District cultural enforcement bureau found "illegal publications" at the magazine's offices amid an ongoing investigation into its activities.
Du Daozheng, who was forced out of his post as publisher of Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine by its parent organization, the National Academy of Arts last week, has said the cutting-edge political and historical journal will no longer be published.
A new management team has been installed, and is now encamped in the magazine's editorial offices round the clock, Du told RFA last week.
Xi enforces party line
The move against the magazine, founded by Du in 1991 to produce reform-minded scholarly articles on history and politics, appears to have been in the making for many months.
Du's sacking came after China's media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) told the magazine's editorial team in April that 37 articles published since the beginning of the year were in breach of political guidelines.
The magazine is the latest publication to run afoul of President Xi Jinping's ongoing ideological campaign to make all press and media organizations toe the party line.
Du was edged out under a rule, seldom enforced, that prevents party elders from taking up new posts after the age of 70. Du had reemerged from retirement to take the helm of Yanhuang Chunqiu, rendering him ineligible, the Chinese National Academy of Arts said.
Former top ruling Communist Party official Bao Tong, who lost his job with the fall of late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, said the authorities were refusing to apply the rule of law in spite of promises by Xi's administration to make this a focal point.
"The rule of law is more important than whether or not somebody loses face," Bao wrote in a commentary for RFA's Mandarin Service on Monday. "The most face-saving thing of all would be to actually rule the country by law."
He cited the magazine's charter, which granted "full autonomy" to Yanhuang Chunqiu to carry out its editorial, financial and personnel-related duties.
Now, the parent organization has sent its own team to live in the magazine's offices, he said.
"Some people are saying that this is the return of Chairman Mao's Red Guards," Bao wrote. "Others say that the thieves and bandits are here."
"But it's more correct to say that the parent organization simply ripped up the agreement it had [with the magazine]. Where is its full autonomy now?"
On the refusal of the court to accept the lawsuit, Bao commented acidly: "Perhaps it's actually legal to break the law under a society with Chinese characteristics?"
But he added: "The truth will out ... The smallest child can see what is going on here, let alone the mature adults."
"Do the right thing and cancel this illegal decision," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.