A journalist for a cutting-edge newspaper is waging a long-running battle taking on the power of a ruling Chinese Communist Party-controlled journalists' association and the country's medical profession.
Chai Huiqun, a journalist for the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend newspaper, is in the process of suing the Chinese Medical Doctors' Association (CMDA) following complaints about his reporting to the party-controlled All-China Journalists Association (ACJA).
According to Chai's personal blog, he is bringing the case because he was named in a CDMA complaint targeting three media outlets who had allegedly published "false reporting" about the country's healthcare services.
"I am suing the ACJA to protect my personal rights," Chai wrote in a recent blog post.
"As a journalist, my reputation has a direct bearing on my right to pursue an occupation, and their public credibility is at the root of a journalist's livelihood," he wrote.
"If my reputation is damaged, then my public credibility will be weakened," Chai said.
Chai is taking issue with ACJA's naming of him in its response to the CDMA's complaint.
He is also seeking 20,000 yuan (U.S.$3,224) in damages from the CDMA, and requiring the defendants to delete all online articles posted in April 2014, which accuse him of false reporting, the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the Communist Party, reported.
Chai is also demanding an open apology for the articles, which accuse him of "fabricating information on medical incidents."
Some of the articles were published under the name of Wang Zhian, a CCTV reporter, the paper said.
The lawsuit against the CDMA has now been heard twice at the Dongcheng District People's Court in Beijing, most recently on June 10.
But Chai's attorney Yang Zhiwei said the defense had faked evidence linked to the journalist's story about alleged corruption linked to equipment contracts at a hospital in the southwestern province of Sichuan, at the heart of the region hit by the 2008 earthquake.
"The CDMA presented a registration certificate for some ultrasonic diagnostic apparatus that was forged," Yang told RFA. "It was fake, because it pertained to a newer model," he said.
"I think that this means that there could be some criminality going on," the lawyer said.
Yang said Chai's story about substituted equipment at the Mianyang Hospital was properly researched, with plenty of evidence.
"We can fully prove that the equipment used by the Mianyang Hospital, as Chai Huiqun wrote in his report at the time ... was faked to make it look new," he said.
Chai had also exposed genuine problems with three apparently separate tendering process at the hospital, he said.
"In fact, it was the same person, the same boss, behind all three contracts, which means that the tendering process was fixed," Yang said.
Yang said the amounts of money to be made from substituting older medical equipment for more recent equipment were huge.
"We can be 100 percent sure that there was a huge scam being run here, and a serious cover-up as well," he said.
Yang said the ACJA had called witnesses from the Mianyang government to its hearing linked to the complaint against Chai.
"But the forgeries were made by the Mianyang Hospital in cahoots with the local government," he said.
Yang said the ACJA was also potentially implicated in the cover-up, because some of the hospital's evidence had changed since Chai's story was published.
Chai, who built a reputation for himself by revealing the darker side of the Chinese medical profession, says his embroilment in the lawsuits has prevented him from continuing with his specialist work.
"It's very hard for me to continue to write reports overseeing the healthcare system now," Chai wrote. "Now, anyone who is targeted by me for criticism can use this same method of reporting me [to the ACJA], or they simply refuse to give me an interview."
China jails many journalists
While the Beijing court has yet to announce a verdict from the June 10 hearing, a CDMA spokesman dismissed the lawsuit against them.
"Chai is seeking revenge," legal affairs department director Deng Liqiang told the Global Times.
While President Xi Jinping has launched an anti-corruption campaign targeting high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies," the government has cracked down on any non-government involvement in uncovering graft, jailing activists who call on the country's leaders to reveal their personal wealth.
China's powerful cyberspace regulator recently issued a whitelist of 381 media organizations that are permitted to syndicate online news content in a bid to stamp out "false information" on the country's tightly controlled Internet.
The whitelist features many of the country's best-known official media outlets, all of which are subject to close government censorship, including party stalwarts the People's Daily Online and the online version of the People's Liberation Army newspaper.
Cutting-edge media like the Guangzhou-based Southern group, which owns Southern Weekend and the 21st Century Business Herald, don't appear on the list, meaning that they can't syndicate their news content to other sites.
At least 44 Chinese journalists are behind bars in 2015, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), including veteran political journalist Gao Yu, who was imprisoned in April for "leaking state secrets overseas."
Gao, 71, who was jailed for seven years by a Beijing court, has denied leaking a 2014 party white paper known as Document No. 9, saying it was already available online.
Document No. 9 lists "seven taboos" to be avoided in public debate, including online and in China's schools and universities, including democracy, freedom of the press, judicial independence and criticism of the party's historical record.
Reported by Ka Pa and Chiu Tze-ho for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.