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Popular weekly supplement suspended in new attack on the liberal press

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned the 25 January 2006 suspension of the pioneering weekly supplement "Bing Dian" ("Freezing Point"), which until this week was published every Wednesday by "Zhongguo Qingnian Bao" ("China Youth Daily"). The sudden decision ends two years of friction between the supplement's editor, Li Datong, and the newspaper's owner, the Communist Youth League.

"After the crises at "Xin Jing Bao" and "Nanfang Dushi Bao" in the past month, 'Bing Dian''s closure confirms that the Communist Party's propaganda chiefs want to reduce the room for expression for the liberal newspapers to zero," the press freedom organisation said.

"We are very concerned at where this crackdown could lead, because it is gaining pace in the run-up to the Spring festivities," Reporters Without Borders added, calling on "Zhongguo Qingnian Bao"'s editors to reverse their decision and resume publishing the supplement.

Li was summoned by Communist Youth League officials on 24 January and notified that his supplement was being closed. He was not told why, or what would happen to the 13 journalists who worked on the supplement. "Bing Dian" was not on sale in newsstands on 25 January, while the newspaper's intranet site said nothing about the suspension. Reporters Without Borders confirmed that its discussion forum (http://www.cyol.net) was blocked. A message said this was due to a technical problem.

Li, who is well-known, told the Associated Press news agency that he was very angry. "I cannot reveal to you all the details of this case," he told the editor of Radio Free Asia. "For the time being, 'Bing Dian' will no long appear and there is nothing we can do about it," he said, stressing that it would be "dangerous" for him to say any more.

One of Li's former colleagues said he had done everything possible to promote investigative journalism and the critical examination of social problems. The publication of an essay by a Taiwanese woman politician entitled "Perhaps you do not know Taiwan", in the supplement last October, triggered a heated debate in China.

Li was a fierce critic of Li Erliang, who was appointed by the Communist Youth League as "Zhongguo Qingnian Bao"'s editor at the end of 2004. He published an open letter condemning the management's decision to impose new criteria on the journalists and to make promotions and raises conditional on the praise received from the Publicity Department (the former Propaganda Department).

"'Bing Dian' has been in the Chinese Communist Party's sights ever since the publication of that open letter," dissident Liu Xiaobo told Radio Free Asia. Created in 1995, "Bing Dian" was very popular and had a print run of 400,000.

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