BEIJING (Reuters) - The closure by Chinese censors of an often outspoken newspaper supplement has provoked unusually vocal protests from journalists and writers, and its editor said an outcry against media controls will grow.
The Communist Party Propaganda Department on Wednesday ordered the indefinite suspension of Freezing Point, a weekly section of the China Youth Daily that published investigative reports on corruption and abuses of official power, and commentaries critical of official thinking.
The Propaganda Department also sought to censor news of the censorship, ordering Chinese media to report nothing, said the founding editor of Freezing Point, Li Datong.
But Li said he plans to formally complain about the Propaganda Department's action, and he expects denunciations of media control to spread.
"I've received unheard of support from so many people, especially journalists, because they saw Freezing Point as virtually the last breathing space for proper journalism," Li told Reuters on Thursday.
"The whole intellectual community is outraged. The denunciations will grow, because this was a step too far."
The China Youth Daily is the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party's youth wing, and its reporters have sometimes used their official status to test censorship limits.
Freezing Point recently carried an essay by a Chinese historian, Yuan Weishi, criticising long-standing distortions of China's past in school textbooks. Late last year, it also reported claims of plagiarism against Zhou Yezhong, a law professor close to China's leaders.
Li said he would complain to the Communist Party's Central Discipline Inspection Commission, an authority that can hear complaints from party members and bodies.
"CONTRARY TO RULES"
"The action of closing Freezing Point was done totally contrary to party rules," Li said, adding that those rules gave him the right to a hearing before such actions.
"The Propaganda Department has no power to control the press in this way."
Li issued a petition denouncing the closure on the Internet. It was available on several mainland-based websites despite strict censorship, and has been joined by a salvo of denunciations from Beijing academics, lawyers and writers.
Some of them said that Hu Jintao, who came to full power in 2004 after Jiang Zemin retired from all his positions, has strengthened propaganda controls.
"Since the political freeze of 2004, not only have there been no signs of warming, but rather there's been a freeze-over with constantly falling temperatures," Liu Xiaobo, a writer in Beijing who was imprisoned after 1989, wrote in an essay circulated on overseas websites.
Recently, China has continued efforts to strengthen media controls -- increasingly with the cooperation of Internet multinationals.
Late last year, authorities removed the chief editor of the Beijing News, a sometimes bold tabloid.
On Tuesday, a reporter, Li Changqing, was sentenced to three years in prison for spreading "alarmist information" about a dengue fever outbreak in 2004. Li also wrote for Boxun, a free-wheeling Chinese language news portal based in the United States.
And on Wednesday, Google announced a censored Chinese version of its search engine that will comply with official Chinese demands to restrict unwelcome information about controversial subjects, which may include Taiwan, Tibet and human rights.
"More and more people feel that this has gone on for too long without being challenged," said Li, speaking of China's censorship controls.