The Case of Reporter Yao Haiying
(Tianya Blog) Changjiang Business News Reporter: the Wuhan city Jiangyan district procuratorate has illegally summoned me on account of a news report. By Yao Haiying. October 13, 2009.
To all colleagues in journalism and all friends in other sectors:
I am in-depth reporter Yao Haiying of the Changjiang Business News in Hubei province. The number on my newspaper magnetic card ID is 0140. My General Administration of Press and Publication press card number is B42005301000071.
A few days ago, I wrote a news report and I was "illegally summoned" and "threatened" by the subject of that report -- the Wuhan city Jiangyan district procuratorate. From September to now, they have been pressing hard. In the absence of any alternatives, I am forced to go on the Internet to appeal for help.
In the "Notice for inquiry," the procuratorate stated clearly that this was about a report on the invasion of business secrets. The notice was marked with the keywords "discipline" and "graft." This means that the Wuhan city Jiangyan district procuratorate has set up a file against the reporter as a suspect in "party disciplinary violations" and "graft."
When the Changjiang Business News communicated with the Jiangyan district procuratorate, the prosecutor general harangued the newspaper director: "We get our way done everywhere except with the Changjiang Business News?" He then threatened: "If you continue not to cooperate and you won't let the reporter be interrogated, we will take the next step."
At a time when all of China is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the republic, this brutish behavior is shocking and regrettable.
On October 9, our state leader said at a worldwide media summit that we value the media, we support the media on watchdog journalism and we protect the people's rights to know, participate, express and supervise.
The Jiangyan district procuratorate is a law enforcement agency which is the subject of watchdog journalism. However, it is illegally summoning a reporter who was carrying out his duties for questioning. This blatant interference with news reporting is revenge? or frame-up?
Let me now describe the events in detail below. I hope that the upper levels of government departments will pay attention and protect the legal rights of journalists in order to highlight the image of justice among law enforcement agencies.
1. The story of the "sensitive reporting"
In early August, I got a lead from a Beijing lawyer friend. Basically, 11 senior workers at the Wuhan Zhongye Nanfang Company were charged with "violation of business secrets" in their dealings with the Tianjian Huan Bohai Company over engineering project diagrams. This case involved a dispute over "under-the-table transactions" and "business secrets" and drew the attention of authorities in Hubei province, the national government as well as the industry.
My personal opinion was that this was a rarely seen example of intellectual right property dispute that occurred after senior workers switched companies. As such, this story has a very good news value.
I made a report to the newspaper editor Wang Zhenhua about this story and he agreed that I should proceed.
In mid-August, after my in-depth investigation was completed, I handed my report to editor Wang Zhenhua, and I handed the relevant photos to the news editor Liu Dan.
On September 3, editor Liu Dan spoke to me about the report which has been placed into the editing process.
On September 4, in the commemorative issue of the third anniversary of the Changjiang Business News, the report was published on page A18 under the title <The investigation of a case of business secret intrusion>. In order to protect the reporter, the editor followed the custom and used the alias Shen Du (which is the homonym for "in-depth").
It should be stated that this was a piece of watchdog journalism which made an objective report on the improper actions of the Jiangyan district procuratorate. It also raised reasonable questions about the controversy between "public knowledge" and "business secrets."
On the morning of September 16, the Jiangyan district court announced the verdict in the case. At noon that day, the editor Wang Zhenhua agreed that I should do a follow-up report.
On September 17, the follow-up report <Leaked company business secrets, engineers fined 800,000 yuan> was published on page A06 in Changjiang Business News. This was an accurate report of the initial court verdict.
It should be stated especially that our newspaper's exclusive <The investigation of a case of business secret intrusion> was the only report that raised reasonable doubts about the case. This report has not been suppressed from above through bans or orders to withdraw. To date, this report is still available in the "in-depth reports" section of the electronic version of Changjiang Business News.
2. The "illegal summoning" of the reporter
The report was published on September 4 (Friday). After the weekend, the reporter began to receive telephone calls from the procuratorate for me to be questioned.
On September 7, a man named Zhang left a message claiming that he is from the Wuhan procuratorate system and requesting the reporter to contact him.
On September 8, He Haiwei from the Jiangyan district procuratorate contacted Chen Yuanjing of the newspaper hotline to tell the reporter to go to the procuratorate for questioning. He Haiwei is a prosecutor and one of the principal workers in the case.
On September 11, Pan Chunsheng and Zhang Wei from the Jiangyan district procuratorate came down to the newspaper chief editor's office and asked the newspaper to tell the reporter to go to the procuratorate for questioning. Pan asked the reporter by phone "Who provided the information to you?" "Do you know how serious this case is?" and other questions. He also asked the reporter and the Beijing lawyer Yang Jiaming who provided the lead to go to the procuratorate office for questioning. Pan and Zhang are the director and vice-director of the Inspector General Office of the Jiangyan district procuratorate respectively. According to information, the principal duty of the "Inspector General Office is to watch out for any improper activities by prosecutors in carrying out their duties."
On the morning of September 15, Zhang Wei called the reporter and asked him to come down to the procuratorate for questioning. The reporter was away on duty and said that he would talk again after his return to Wuhan.
On the afternoon of September 15, Zhang Wei and Pan Chunsheng went to the newspaper office again and asked the editorial office to pass a notice for consultation titled <Wuhan Jiangyan procuratorate (discipline/corruption) inquiry (2009) Number 100> to the reporter. This notice came about because of a report about a certain business secrets case. The reporter was asked to go to the procuratorate office on September 18 for questioning. It is noteworthy that the '8' was changed by hand from '5'. This meant that the Jiangyan procuratorate planned to directly take the reporter away from the newspaper office on September 15. However, the reporter was away and therefore the date was changed.
On September 16, 17, 18 and 21, Jiangyan district procuratorate Inspector General Office vice director Zhang Wei sent SMS and called by phone to threaten the reporter. The messages include:
"The fact that we sent you a notice shows that we are determined. It also shows the authoritativeness of the law."
"You should not treat this issue too lightly. Please come down honestly to the procuratorate for interrogation."
"It was a serious thing for you to report this case. We don't want to come after you. But the upper echelon has asked us to find you."
"You cannot escape from this. We will surely find you." And so on.
According to an informed source, the Jiangyan district procuratorate prosecutor general read the news report in early September, became outraged, charged down from upstairs and threw a copy of the newspaper on the desk of the case prosecutor: "How can this report come out? Who provided the tip to the reporter? Investigate this thoroughly!"
So that was why the prosecutors came after this reporter for the next full month.
3. Dealing with the newspaper: Threatening to take "the next step"
During the initial contact, the newspaper chief editorial office sincerely told the Jiangyan district procuratorate that "the reporter was only carrying out his duty" and that they should contact the newspaper about any issues with the content. However, the other party said that the newspaper was shielding the reporter and therefore reached to higher authorities in order to apply pressures on the newspaper.
On September 21, the Jiangyan district procuratorate went through the channels to reach the Hubei Changjiang Media Publishing Group that supervises the Changjiang Business News. It was claimed that the newspaper was not cooperating with a regular judicial inquiry. The Group leader asked the newspaper to handle the matter properly. The newspaper's legal representative and publisher Zhao Aiping treated the matter importantly and asked the newspaper to deal with the Jiangyan district procuratorate directly.
On the morning of September 22, newspaper chief editor office director Lei Liguo spoke to the Jiangyan district procuratorate prosecutor general by phone. Zhang sounded very angry over the phone and did not want to talk much.
On the afternoon of September 22, the newspaper dispatched deputy publisher Zhang Chaofu, editor on duty Wang Zhenhua and chief editor office director Lei Liguo to meet personally with the Jiangyan procuratorate prosecutor general in order to under the real reason why the reporter was being asked to be questioned. But prosecutor general Zhang did not offer any concrete reasons. Instead he talked tough. During the conversation, prosecutor general Zhang told the newspaper leaders: "We get our way with other departments. So why can't we do so with the Changjiang Business News?" He threatened: "If you don't cooperate and turn over the reporter, we will take the next step."
On the afternoon-evening of September 22, the reporter gave a detailed account to the newspaper about the incident and the associated threats.
On the morning of Septembger 23, the reporter provided a written situation report about the "illegal summon."
On September 24, the newspaper senior management designated editorial room director Lei Liguo as the contact person to reach out to Jiangyan district procuratorate Inspector General Office director Pan Chunsheng. The newspaper also designated chief editor Yang Wenfu to contact the Jiangyan district procuratorate prosecutor general.
On September 25, the Jiangyan district procuratorate once again offered that the newspaper can send someone to accompany the reporter to go to their office for questioning. The newspaper rejected the offer.
On September 27, the Changjiang Business News sent a letter by courier to the Jiangyan district procuratorate to state: (1) the reporter was only carrying out his duty and the newspaper cannot force the reporter to go to the procuratorate for questioning against his will; (2) the other party is requested to provide the concrete evidence and reason why the reporter is being "summoned" for questioning.
The procuratorate Inspector General Office director Pan Chunsheng read the letter and went upstairs to see the Prosecutor General. Afterwards he gave an oral message: (1) The newspaper should cooperate to arrange for the reporter to be investigated; (2) there is no evidence for now, but it will become clear after the reporter is questioned.
On October 12, four days after the end of the long National Day vacation week, Jiangyan district procuratorate Inspector General Office director Pan Chunsheng called the newspaper chief editorial room to apply pressure. In the message to the newspaper leader, he used three consecutive exlamation marks.
In the series of actions from the Jiangyan district procuratorate, the Changjiang Business News was courteous and conducted itself properly as a media organization should.
Publsiher Zhao Yaping ordered the newspaper leaders to contact the Jiangyan district procuratorate and he said: "When a reporter writes a report, he is carrying out his duty. The newspaper should protect the personal safety of the reporter and must not send him away for investigation. The newspaper should take care of any situation as an organization." In the SMS to the reporter, he wrote: "As the publisher, I am obliged to protect my reporter." In a phone conversation with the family of the reporter, he said, "Please don't worry. The newspaper will contact the other party at the organizational level. We will guarantee the personal safety of the reporter."
The newspaper's chief editor Yang Wenfu said: "If this is just about the report itself, there is no reason for the relevant department to summon the reporter for questioning. If they insist on summoning the reporter, they should state their reasons and produce concrete evidence that the reporter has violated discipline. It is strange that when the three newspaper leaders went to speak to the other side, nothing concrete was provided." Chief editor Yang presented three points to the other side. (1) the newspaper will cooperate with the investigation by the procuratorate; (2) the newspaper will protect the legal rights of its reporter; (3) the newspaper cannot force its reporter to be questioned.
The editor-on-duty Wang Zhenhua said: The newspaper should communicate with the other side as an organization over this extraordinary event; it cannot let the reporter to deal with it on his own; it has to protect the legal rights of the reporter.
4. The illegal summons: Threatening the reporter and interfering with regular news reporting
Why do I describe the action of the Jiangyan district procuratorate as "illegal summons"? The reasons are well-known:
1. I am a reporter who holds a press pass from the General Administration of Press and Publications. Therefore, when I write those news reports, I am carrying out my legally regulated duties. The report was approved with sign-offs from the editor, the chief editor, the managing leader and the chief editor on duty. As such, it is not just the personal action of one reporter. Thus the Jiangyan district procuratorate should not have "summoned" the reporter only for that report.
2. The Jiangyan district procuratorate is one of the parties described in the news report and therefore it is a party which holds an interest in the case. Under the principle of fairness and propriety, it should not have "summoned" the reporter to come down personally to the procuratorate for investigation although it could have communicated with the newspaper and the reporter on equal terms.
3. It was two leaders from the Inspector General Office of the Jiangyan district procuratorate who "illegally summoned" the reporter. The duty of the Inspector General Office is to supervise the actions (including those that violate the disciplinary rules) of the prosecutors during the course of their duties. Therefore, this "disciplinary" department within the procuratorate does not have the right to "summon" a reporter.
4. The Changjiang Business News is located in Hongshan district, Wuhan City. This reporter resides in Wuchang district, Wuhan City. The Jiangyan district procuratorate is located in the Jiangyan district. Therefore, the Jiangyan district procuratorate does not have jurisdictional rights to "summon" this reporter.
5. In the notice for "inquiry," it was clearly stated that this was related to an investigative report about "violation of business secrets." That document number had the keywords for "discipline" and "graft." This showed that the Wuhan city Jiangyan district procuratorate used the published article as the basis for setting up a case against the reporter, and then summoned the reporter as a suspect in "party disciplinary violations" and "graft." This presumptive approach is a brutish way of law enforcement. When a reporter is treated this way without any evidence, it is a typical case of taking revenge.
6. Actually, I have never evaded the Jiangyan district procuratorate workers ever since they initiated contact with me. I told them about my basic position that I am willing to provide them with written statements on how I gathered my information. I even said that I am willing to talk to them at the newspaper office. Unfortunately, the Jiangyan district procuratorate was overbearing and pushy all the way and threatened this reporter while waving the banner of "law enforcement" in the name of the state.
7. According to my understanding of the case in the news report, there are many other inside secrets. For example, the key person CH was recently named in the "Wuhan University chancellor bribery case," place under "double regulations" and confessed to many illegal activities. As a result, there has been silence from the relevant parties. So what is the motive behind this effort to threaten and intimidate a reporter at this time?
5. The position and attitude of a reporter
Frankly speaking, I don't want to be a martyr. Like all journalists, I am actually a simple and moderate person. I have a family, I have a young child and my parents are more than 70 years old. So I carry many burdens. My goal is to lead a simple, steady life in a city where the Changjiang River meets the Hanshui River. I would never want to initiate a war against a powerful government department.
But as a professional reporter with 12 years of experience, I hold the most basic character and quality of this profession. When faced with injustice and threats, I have no choice but to go head on even though I am like a cicada trying to stop a cart.
In the letter that I sent Changjiang Business News publisher Zhao Yaping, I described my attitude: "If I need to face this kind of threat and attack, I can only sacrifice myself as a journalist who has to uphold his character and position."
At this moment, my heart is filled with irrepressible sorrow for myself, for journalists as a group and for society at large after I wrote the above words.
What is today? This is the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of our republic. But this ugly behavior of interfering with journalism and suppressing reporters continues in the city of Wuhan in the heart of China. Further, the behavior is blatant and flagrant.
Ibsen wrote: "Everybody has responsibility for the society that he finds himself in. He is part of the flaws of that society."
Mr. Cheng of the Southern Daily Group once said: "Freedom is indivisible. When one person is enslaved, everybody else is not free."
I am a person whose words weigh lightly. But I want to say that as weak as I may be, I will use my persistence to defend the minimal professional dignity of a reporter. This is not about resistance. This is not about hypersensitivity or self-respect. This is about a "non-violent and non-cooperative" resistance. This is the position that a professional investigative reporter must firmly adhere to.
Finally, I want to publicly state the following points to all those people who are reading this "urgent appeal."
1. During my gathering of information for these news reports, I had strictly followed the rules of journalism. I am clean and I did not engage in anything that was against the law or the regulations.
2. The reason why I refused to accept the "illegal summons" of the Wuhan city Jiangyan district procuratorate is very simple. A person has to have character just as a newspaper has to have character. The right of a journalist to report and the right of a newspaper to speak must not be readily violated and trampled upon. A law-abiding citizen and journalist can reject an illegal summons without any need to negotiate! When a professional journalist like myself faces a blatant abuse of authority, there is no way I would cooperate with them.
3. I hope that the upper echelon can organize an independent investigative team whose members come from the Supreme Procuratorate, lawyers, journalists and other relevant departments to investigate this case of "illegal summons," including whether the investigative journalist had engaged in illegal activities during the process. I am willing to cooperate fully with a fair and open investigation.
4. The Wuhan city Jiangyan district procuratorate must rescind its "notice" to illegally summon the reporter for questioning, as well as apologize to the Changjiang Business News and its reporter in order to clear up the bad influence. They should communicate with the newspaper and the reporter in a sincere manner.
Dear colleagues and friends, I have decided to come out publicly after due consideration and not out of hastiness. I never imagined that a normal news report would lead to an illegal summons. I did not imagine that after the illegal summons, my newspaper could not get any result after it intervened organizationally. Since I am backed up against the wall with no other room to retreat, I have no choice but to bring this case under the sunshine of public supervision (on the Internet).
In order to avoid any "accidental occurrences" due to revenge, I have informed my relatives, friends, colleagues, lawyer friends and any other organization that can help me. They will pay attention to my circumstances. This is a manner of "self-defense" that came about reluctantly.
After publishing this open letter, I will sit quietly at home to await the "next step" that the Wuhan city Jiangyan district procuratorate will take against me. Whether this is an arrest warrant or a coerced removal, I will tell them clearly: "What you are doing is against the law. You are violating the freedom of press and the public's right to know."
October 13, 2009
Changjiang Business News reporter Yao Haiying
Telephone number: 13297969991
(Southern Weekend) October 28, 2009.
On October 12, Pan Chunsheng sent an SMS to the newspaper leader: "We want to meet with Yao Haiying" followed by three exclamation marks. These three exclamation marks caused the newspaper leaders to become nervous. Just at that moment, some of the newspaper leaders were due for their job reviews.
At noon, the newspaper senior managers met to discuss whether "Yao Haiying should keep writing reports" because the "appearance of the name Yao Haiying in our newspaper will make the procuratorate think that we are deliberately irking them." In spite of some opposition, Yao Haiying was notified that he should not be writing any more reports until the matter was settled. Yao Haiying thought that this was a graceful way of saying things when his job was effectively suspended. A newspaper leader said: "The procuratorate is too powerful."
Yao Haiying felt very bad. He wanted to hear something such as: "Please give us some time to deal with this. In the interim, you should not write. You can just take the base pay and wait this through." But nobody told him that. "I felt that there is not a single person that I can trust under the heavens."
At noon on October 15, after much mental anguish, Yao Haiying went on the Internet and posted: <Changjiang Business News Reporter: the Wuhan city Jiangyan district procuratorate has illegally summoned me on account of a news report> about his personal experiences.
The post was quickly spread around the Internet. That evening, the newspaper held an emergency meeting which led to two decisions. (1) the newspaper sent a letter to the Jiangyan district procuratorate that this was the result of the action by the reporter acting individually and not under the direction of the newspaper leaders. (2) the newspaper will write to the various websites to say that "what our reporter wrote was seriously inaccurate" and ask them to remove the post at the risk of legal action otherwise.
According to Wuhan media professionals, the newspaper was inconsistent in how they deal with Yao Haiying because the pressure on them was not solely on account of Yao Haiying.
This red-hot Internet incident drew attention in Beijing. On October 16, the Central Publicity Department and the Supreme Procuratorate ordered the Hubei provincial party publicity committee and the Hubei provincial procuratorate to investigate the affair. The results came out quickly, with the relevant officials at the Jiangyan district procuratorate being severely reprimanded.
That evening, Jiangyan district procuratorate prosecutor general Zhang Zhenguo and two deputy prosecutor generals came over to meet Yao Haiying in the presence of a newspaper leader. Yao Haiying offered these conditions: there must a written report to the newspaper and himself; the summons to him on suspicion of graft must be withdrawn; there must be a written guarantee that this will not affect his work.
Prosecutor general Zhang Zhenguo agreed but subject to two conditions: Yao Haiying promises not to disclose the contents of the apology from the procuratorate to the public; a written statement will be provided to the effect that Yao Haiying got his information in the report not from the Jiangyan district procuratorate.
Yao Haiying thought that those two conditions were unreasonable, but ultimately he agreed. At 8pm on October 17, prosecutor general Zhang Zhenguo, the deputy prosecutor generals and his office director met with Yao Haiying and his family. In the presence of the newspaper leaders, the Jiangyan district procuratorate issued an "explanatory statement" which contained apologetic elements:
1. Our procuratorate issued a notice for inquiry with Changjiang Business News reporter Mr. Yao Haiying. Afterwards, we caused Mr. Yao Haiying mental anguish and pressure due to misunderstandings in communication. Our procuratorate sincerely expresses our apology and understanding.
2. Since Mr. Yao Haiying is willing to cooperate with our investigation and provide the relevant information, the procuratorate no longer requires a notice of inquiry. Thus, that notice has been rescinded.
3. Our procuratorate will not investigate Mr. Yao Haiying any further with respect to this matter.
Yao Haiying was very dissatisfied that the Jiangyan district procuratorate legitmized the "illegal summons." A family member of Yao Haiying asked Zhang Zhenguo two questions:
"What mistake did Yao Haiying make? Why did they go after him?" Zhang replied: "Yan Haiying did not do anything wrong. It was a misunderstanding. We were sloppy in our work ... We have not establish any case file on him. We are apologizing to him in person now."
The relevant newspaper leaders also promised that Yao Haiying's job would not be affected and that there would be no retaliation against him.
On October 20, Yao Haiying resumed work. Three days later, he was criticized for one hour by the relevant leaders at the editorial staff meeting. In practice, his work has been suspended once more.
Yao Haiying said that he is still frightened by this matter. He recalled that when the procuratorate handed over the letter of apology, Prosecutor General Zhang Zhenguo said: "If you reveal what happened tonight, it means that you have ulterior motives and therefore you are guilty of instigating trouble."