A day after China's best-known investigative journalist was forced to leave yet another reporting job, a German television crew was attacked by men with baseball bats while on a reporting trip near Beijing.
The departure of top reporter Wang Keqin from the Economic Observer newspaper was still being widely reposted on the popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo on Friday, where it was announced by one of Wang's colleagues at the paper.
"The standard-bearer for investigative journalism in China, Wang Keqin, formally left his job at the Economic Observer newspaper on Feb. 27," colleague Liu Xiangnan tweeted on the Sina Weibo microblogging service.
A journalist at the paper who declined to be named said the management had made no announcement regarding Wang's fate.
"We saw him packing up his stuff in the newsroom, but he didn't tell us he was leaving his job," the reporter said. "We just guessed."
"So far, the paper hasn't made any announcement, so I can't say much more about it," he added.
By Friday, Wang had tweeted photos of what he said were "two tons of paperwork" given to him by petitioners containing details of official wrongdoing, in a post that was one of the most retweeted on the service early Friday, according to Hong Kong University's China Media Project.
'No room' for journalists
Wang was head-hunted for a senior position at the Economic Times newspaper in 2002 after his expose of an investment scandal in his home province of Gansu brought the wrath of officials down on his head.
The investigative team he headed there carried out in-depth investigations into corruption, but was disbanded in 2011 after a series of cutting-edge reports, including the Shanxi tainted vaccines scandal of 2010.
Wang has also written about the AIDS epidemic in central Henan province linked to blood-selling schemes there, which the government has tried to de-link from new HIV infections.
Wang's departure this time is being linked to a hard-hitting report last August about the deaths of 77 people amid severe flooding and summer rainstorms in Beijing.
Wang Ganlin, head of the in-depth reporting unit at Guangzhou's Yangcheng Evening News, said the news of Wang's departure hadn't come as a surprise.
"In China, there's really no room for investigative reporters to exist, so really it's normal for a journalist like Wang Keqin, who is known as the No. 1 investigative reporter, to be sidelined," Wang said.
"It would be very strange if he was able to survive within the system."
Meanwhile, the German foreign ministry summoned China's deputy ambassador to Berlin in a strong protest over the beating of an ARD television crew in a rural area some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Beijing.
ARD correspondent Christine Adelhardt, accompanied by two German colleagues and two Chinese staff, was attacked after filming in Dayange Zhuang village in Hebei province for a report on urbanization, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said in a statement on Friday.
"We were filming the village square, where you could see old style farmers' houses next to a newly-built mansion behind a wall and high-rise buildings in the background," it quoted Adelhardt as saying.
A car which drew up nearby them, filming the TV crew, later gave chase and forced their minivan to stop.
"The crew got away, but were pursued, forced off the road and onto the sidewalk, rammed, and made to stop," the statement said.
"Two men from the pursuing vehicles attacked the minivan with baseball bats, shattering its windshield, before the ARD driver was able to get away again by bulldozing his way past a car parked in front of the ARD van," it said.
The reporters and their colleagues narrowly escaped serious injury, the FCCC said.
The FCCC called on the authorities to investigate the incident and to punish those responsible for "a gross violation of the ARD crew's professional journalistic rights."
An employee at ARD's Beijing office said the journalists had called the police.
"The police are now involved," he said. "But our minivan is still stranded there."
'A censorship system'
Wang Ganlin said there was only so far journalists could go, in the view of China's ruling Communist Party.
"This is a country that censors news," he said. "There is no room in the system [for investigative journalism."
"There is no way that the media can be allowed to operate freely under a censorship system."
But Hangzhou-based journalist Zan Aizong said the government was particularly sensitive about an increasing number of reports on social welfare and justice in overseas media.
"Previously, foreign journalists mostly reported on diplomatic relations between China and the rest of the world, but now foreign reporters are starting to take notice of the problems faced by ordinary Chinese, such as environmental protection," Zan said.
"This sort of thing is tied up with vested interests at a local level, so as soon as journalists start reporting this sort of thing, the [local] governments get scared that this will affect world opinion, or prompt an incident."
"The officials want to keep their jobs, so they will use any tactics to be unfriendly to foreign journalists."
Reported by He Ping and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Fung Yat-yiu and Wei Ling for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.