China Hits Back at Magazine Over Labor Camp Expose

2013-05-06
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A file photo of inmates at a women's labor camp in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China.
A file photo of inmates at a women's labor camp in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China.
EyePress News

Authorities in the Chinese capital have halted publication of a cutting-edge magazine after it published a harrowing expose of life inside a labor camp, an employee said via social media.

The magazine Lens, which is published by the Beijing Caixun Media Group, had its May issue delayed after the article, which ran as the cover story in the April edition, sparked widespread horror and debate online.

A number of former inmates have detailed torture and ill-treatment which they said were a way of life at the Masanjia Women's Re-education Through Labor facility outside the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.

Production of the May edition of Lens magazine has been temporarily halted, a staff member said on Monday.

The employee, who answered the phone at the magazine's editorial department in Beijing, said work had halted on the May edition for more than a week.

"We are already a week late with the magazine," the employee said. "But it will come out; you should be able to buy it."

Asked the reason for the delay, the employee replied: "It's that [article]. The contents got us into some trouble."

"It's definitely that one [about Masanjia]," he said.

"It's not convenient for me to speak," he said. "It's not easy, actually doing [reporting]."

Warned by police

Liaoning-based petitioner Gai Fengzhen said that Liaoning petitioner Zhao Min, the former inmate quoted in the Lens article, had received a call from her local police station last week, warning her not to give any interviews to overseas media.

"She sent me a text to say that the police called her .. .to warn her not to talk to foreign journalists, or they would sort her out," Gai said.

"Another [former inmate], Gao Fenglan, got a call from police, who wanted to come to her home, but she wouldn't open the door."

A third former Masanjia inmate, Li Wenjuan, declined to comment following a visit to her home by police, during which she too refused to open the door.

She has said in previous interviews that a team set up by the Liaoning prosecutor's office to investigate the Masanjia facility appeared to be a front to appease popular opinion.

China's public has become increasingly angry over the "re-education through labor" system, which can be invoked by police for up to four years without need for a trial.

Officials had declined to put her evidence on file when she visited to testify about her time inside the camp, she said in interviews with RFA last month.

Media attacks

Meanwhile, the Lens article has also come under attack from China's state-run media, which is tightly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's central propaganda department.

An April 19 article in the Legal Daily newspaper said the article had relied mostly on overseas sources with close ties to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

It said it had made use of "counterfactual" descriptions, with pernicious results.

But the Lens journalist in Beijing, who declined to give his name, said the investigation had been led by the magazine's bureau in Liaoning province.

"There was a very long lead time to research this article," he said. "We have our own process of fact-checking our own interviews, and establishing a chain of evidence."

"It is pretty reliable."

He said next month's issue has a number of articles lined up about cancer. "Lens has always covered social issues, and has a lot of human interest stories," he added.

Hard to ignore


A veteran journalist on the China Economic Times newspaper said it is becoming increasingly hard for Chinese media to ignore stories that  surface on social media sites.

"There are so many ways of getting information, apart from the printed media. There is no way to stop the flood of information on any number of topics online," he said.

"But they are still in the old mindset, and they haven't moved with the times," he said of China's state-controlled media.

Calls to Liaoning provincial government offices and the police department went unanswered during office hours on Monday.

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.


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