China: Hu and a dead journalist

The shady murder case of Chinese journalist Lan Chengzhang – who was apparently investigating an illegal coal mining operation – has unexpectedly drawn the attention of President Hu Jintao, according to the NY Times:

Mr. Lan was attacked on Jan. 10, along with a colleague, Chang Hanwen, when they went to interview the owner of the mine, located near the northern city of Datong in Shanxi Province. […] Citing government officials, the China News Service said that Mr. Hu and other senior Communist Party figures sent instructions “demanding that the case be rapidly investigated and the results be reported as quickly as possible.”

The case is bizarre for two reasons – the first being that Chengzhang was apparently more of an extortionist than a journalist, according to EastWestSouthNorth, who published the translated police report:

At around 9am on January 10, 2007, China Trade News’ Shanxi bureau worker Lan Chengzhang called his colleague Sheng Hanwen to go to Hunyuan county to collect information about an coal mine that has not gotten all its paperwork done. The two men rented the Santana 2000 car of Cao Xinbin and left together. On the way, Lan told Sheng, “I heard that a certain coal mine in Hunyuan does not have all the paperwork done. Let us go and take a look. If we can meet the boss, we wave our identification and the other party will give us at least 1,000 RMB.”

The other strange thing? Hu is apparently giving a damn about a journalist – as I posted about earlier, the legal treatment of journalists in China doesn’t have a great track record, to say the least. But if Hu is doing this to boost some kind of humanitarian image, his message is lost given the nature of the case – no matter the circumstance, the murder is awful and unjustifiable, but Chengzhang is already dead.

Maybe Hu should work on clearing the name of the many journalists who are unjustly suffering in jail because of China’s crushingly oppressive political system.

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