By China Change, published: December 29, 2013
For China watchers, the year of 2013 began promptly with the Southern Weekend incident. As a New Year’s tradition, the liberal-leaning, Guangzhou-based paper issued its New Year’s greetings in an essay calling for a “dream of constitutionalism.” The essay drew the ire of the censors at the paper, was intercepted in the editing room, butchered, turned into something towing the Party’s line, all without the knowledge of the journalists working there. A few Weibo complaints morphed into national, then international, news in a matter of hours. In a few days, the paper was shushed and back to its normal operations with outsiders knowing very little about the internal repercussions and handling of the events.
Now, at the end of the year, two dissidents, Guo Feixiong (pen name for Yang Maodong) and Liu Yuandong (刘远东), were charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” for showing up outside the entrance of the Southern Media Group headquarters (where the Southern Weekend was housed) to voice their support for the journalists and call for a free press and freedom of expression. Of the hundreds of people who converged outside the SMG compound, the two were identified by the authorities as the ringleaders of the demonstrations. They will soon be standing trial in Guangzhou. As Xiao Shu (笑蜀) pointed out (in Chinese), “scores of Maoists also gathered outside the SMG compound to protest the Southern Weekend, and none of them have been charged. The authorities’ selective enforcement indicates that they were not concerned with gatherings per se; they are punishing Guo Feixiong and Liu Yuandong not because they disrupted anything or gathered a crowd, but because of their calls for democracy and press freedom.”
Friday, Lei Lei (雷磊), a journalist with the Group, exposed a statement made by the Group testifying about the “disruption” the crowds caused. A few days before, the defense lawyers of Guo Feixiong characterized the statement by the Group as ‘damaging:’
Explanation about the Crowding outside the Entrance of Southern Media Group January 6 – 9, 2013
The Southern (or Nanfang) Media Group is an influential media group in China. Under its flag, the Nanfang Daily is the Chinese Communist Party Guangdong Provincial Committee’s official newspaper, Nanfang Magazine, the provincial party committee’s official periodical, and the southcn.com the official website of the provincial party committee and the provincial government. As a result, the Group had to open a side entrance on Dongxing South Road that was closed under normal circumstances to divert the flow of staff, and some of the Group’s meetings (events) had to be canceled.
From January 6 to 9, 2013, many people gathered outside the Group’s headquarters at No. 289, Guangzhou Avenue, middle section, and they significantly affected the normal work order of the Group, and the entrance’s normal in-and-out traffic of personnel and vehicles was encumbered.
Now two days before the year is over, journalists in Guangzhou, more than 20 of them so far, are speaking out, again, against the organization that employs them:
Dai Zhiyong (戴志勇, author of the New Year’s greetings that led to the Southern Weekend incident): This statement has violated the baseline of the matter, and I cannot agree with it. I personally didn’t feel my work order was disrupted or in any way affected by the ladies and gentlemen who were expressing their views outside the gate. Everyone has the right to express their opinions and judgment, whether they supported the Southern Weekend or otherwise. To strive for one’s lawful right of expression should be the most basic consensus.
Fan Chenggang (范承刚): 2014 is right around the corner. My only hope is that Mr. Liu Yuandong and Mr. Guo Feixiong will receive fair and just treatment. As an ordinary member of the Southern Media Group, I have never thought my work was disturbed in any way at all. On the contrary, thanks to the support of many strangers at the beginning of the year, media outlets of the Group have received more lenient space to write and report. I appreciate everyone who came out to support us, and I also believe their voices should be tolerated and respected in a normal society.
Lei Lei (@雷磊ak): As an ordinary member of the Southern Media Group, I do not think that my work was disturbed at the beginning of this year. Everything went on as usual and, on January 10, my report on Yuan Lihai adopting abandoned children was published on the front page. In the coming new year, I wish Mr. Guo Feixiong and Mr. Liu Yuandong will receive fair treatment. I appreciate the support from these strangers, and I wish them the best.
Ximen Buan (@西門不暗): With this statement in front of me that aids and abets the evil-doers, I am deeply ashamed as a member of the Group. This is my personal statement: What I witnessed differs from what is described in the statement. The supporters were well-mannered and in good order. I hold different values from that statement.
Kuang Haiyan (@邝海炎): I am a member in the compound of the Southern Media Group, and I also am ashamed! Those who came to voice their support for the Southern Weekend were well behaved. They stood on either side of the street and kept the middle clear for the flow of traffic. When someone teased the opponents being 50-centers, someone else would come forward promptly saying, “The 50-centers have freedom of speech too.” They showed true civility!
Pan Xiaozhou (@潘小粥): As a member of the Southern Media Group, I feel deeply ashamed about this statement.
Xiao Rui (@萧锐): As a current member of the No. 289 compound, I can testify that the public order was good in those days and I witnessed neither destruction nor disturbance.
Zhou Zhimei (周至美): My work unit’s opinion does not represent my own stance.
Su Shaoxin (苏少鑫): I hereby state that I am Su Shaoxin, editor of the op-ed page at the Southern Metropolis Daily. I was on duty on January 7 and 8, 2013. On both days, we held our headline discussion at 4:30 pm as usual, the page layout proceeded as usual, and the supervisors on duty reviewed the stories and signed off on them for publication as usual, and nothing was out of the ordinary from any other time during the two and half years I have worked here.
Shi Feike (石扉客): I submitted my resignation at the end of February and officially left my post at the end of March. When the Southern Weekend Incident erupted in January, I was on the editorial board managing the news section of the Southern Metropolis Weekly, an outlet of the Southern Media Group. By my own witnessing, I did not see the workplace order at the Weekly being hindered by any outside forces and the news section operated normally. As a former member of SMG and a signatory of the protest [against censorship at the Southern Weekend], I want to express my deepest respect for, and appreciation to, Liu Yuandong, Guo Feixiong and other citizens who voiced their support for the Southern Media Group.
Luo Xiaofu (罗小敷): I was at the scene to throw fifty cents to the fifty-centers. The latter and I conducted ourselves in an orderly way. I state that the statement by the Group does not represent me at all, and I am humiliated by its shamelessness and unscrupulousness.
Lin Shanshan (林珊珊N号): As a member of the Group, the event at the beginning of this year did not disturb my work.
Zhang Zhe (张哲): The Southern Media Group provided an absurd testimony in the Liu Yuandong case and Guo Feixiong case, both men charged with “disrupting order in a public place.” Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are the rights citizens ought to have, also rights that journalists pursue and defend, not to mention that there was no violent disruption whatsoever at the time. I was still working at Southern Weekend at the beginning of the year, and I completely disagree with the testament of the Group. I thank our supporters and condemn the action of the Group.
Qinxuan (秦轩): I heard about the statement the Southern Media Group made in the cases of Liu Yuandong and Guo Feixiong who were charged with “disrupting public order.” Citizens should enjoy the right to assemble and the right to express themselves, and journalists seek and defend these rights as well. What crimes did they commit? Since no violence occurred, why do we even need to argue about it? The Southern Weekend is a subordinate unit of the Group. It may feel the need to protect some of its members, but what value will be left of the Southern Weekend if it sells out others and betrays principles for the sake of survival? I appreciate those who came out to support us at the beginning of the year, and protested what the Group did.
More than 20 journalists at the SMG have so far expressed on social media their objection to the organization’s statement. And most of their messages have since been censored.
Sources: Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, WeChat.