Last July I wrote a blog from Beijing about a tale I heard concerning Yu Huafeng, general manager and deputy editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily in the southern city of Guangzhou.
As the story was told, “Yu Huafeng had gone missing.”I heard this account twice: once by an American when I was being recruited to go to China and later during a casual conversation with Chinese journalists in Beijing. We were discussing freedom of the press and the obstacles they face to report the truth. I kind of shrugged the “missing” story off upon first hearing it, but began to ponder the true meaning of “missing” during this latter conversation. I can still see the seriousness and concern on their faces when they talked about it. I’m ashamed to say, I also remember having a cavalier attitude and later making a few glib remarks in my blog.
Last week I read a report on washingtonpost.com about a newspaper editor in Guangzhou who had recently been released after 4 years in jail. Lo and behold, it is Yu Huafeng, the man I heard the rumors about. He served four years on corruption charges that journalists said were trumped up to retaliate for aggressive reporting.
According to the journalists, authorities in Guangdong were annoyed because of a Southern Metropolis Daily report in December 2003 revealing that a case of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, had been covered up despite pledges of openness by the central government in Beijing. Reading this article made me feel two feet tall. Regardless of which country it takes place, human rights violation is no joke and again I say I’m ashamed I made lite of it. It’s not funny when it happens in the states and even less funny when you know there are people who have very few rights at all.
In China, courts are under the control of the Communist Party and judges routinely take guidance from party officials on sensitive cases. To me that does not sound like the makings of a fair trial. I am preparing for a return trip to China on March 31st but this time with a more thoughtful and less cavalier attitude.
Washingtonpost.com contributed to this report