BEIJING China's central publishing regulator, in a rare acknowledgement of the rights of journalists, expressed concern on Thursday about a detained reporter, a case that has stirred outrage after a newspaper pleaded with police on its front page to let him go.
Chen Yongzhou was detained after writing more than a dozen stories criticizing the finances of a major state-owned construction equipment maker, a move that coincides with new curbs on journalists, lawyers and internet users in China.
"The General Association of Press and Publishing (GAPP) resolutely supports the news media conducting normal interviewing and reporting activities and resolutely protects journalists' normal and legal rights to interview," the China Press and Publishing Journal, which is overseen by the association itself, said, citing an association official.
"At the same time, it resolutely opposes any abuse of the right to conduct interviews."
The article said the association was paying "close attention" to the matter.
Chen reported extensively for the state-backed New Express tabloid on Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. Ltd., saying the company had engaged in sales fraud, exaggerated its profits and used public relations to defame its competitors, accusations strongly denied by the company.
Zoomlion told Reuters on Wednesday it had complained to Changsha police about Chen. Police said they had detained Chen on charges he had defamed a business.
In an unusually bold response, New Express published a front-page commentary on Wednesday, headlined by three huge characters saying: "Please free him." On Thursday, the headline read: "Again, please free him."
The central government-backed All China Journalists Association told state media that it had asked the Ministry of Public Security to guarantee Chen's safety and handle the matter fairly.
Press freedom in China is considered a sensitive topic, but Chinese-language media with state backing carried stories about the incident on Tuesday and Wednesday with no obvious sign of official censorship.
GAPP said it had noted the attention internet users had paid to the issue. Chen's story had gone viral on Wednesday on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblog service.
(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Nick Macfie)