Chinese reporter chasing corruption claims disappears

BEIJING Mon Dec 15, 2008 5:48pm IST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese newspaper reporter investigating a suspicious real estate deal who has not been seen since five men pushed him into a car two weeks ago has been accused of bribery, in the second such case this month.

Guan Jian, reporter for the small Network News (Wangluo Bao) paper, was seized by police over bribery allegations, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Shanxi Provincial Public Security Department.

The case appears to be the second in two weeks involving journalists who colleagues said were targeted for probing graft in a part of north China rich in both coal and corruption claims.

Guan Jian was seized from a hotel lobby in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi province on December 1 and forced into a waiting four-wheel drive, hotel security tapes showed.

Video footage from the Jinjiang Inn, published in the Beijing News, showed Guan in the lobby when the men arrived. He has not contacted his family since, his son told Reuters.

"His friends couldn't reach him, his colleagues couldn't either. At first we thought he had just gone on a reporting trip, but then after several days when he still wasn't in touch, we got worried," Guan Yufei said in a phone interview.

He traveled to Shanxi to look for his father, who was in the provincial capital, Taiyuan, investigating claims of illegal land-use by a real estate company with official connections.

The younger Guan came back with only tapes of the apparent kidnapping, but said he was hopeful his father was still alive.

"We have basically confirmed that he has not had a 'mishap'," Guan told Reuters. He declined to say more for fear of jeopardizing the search for his father.

Guan was taken into custody by police from Zhangjiakou city in neighboring Hebei Province, Xinhua quoted the Shanxi police department as saying.

The Network News held a meeting to discuss Guan's disappearance and decided the best course of action was to work with local police to try to find him, a colleague told Reuters.

Police in Taiyuan told Reuters that they were investigating the case, but declined to comment further.

RISKS TO JOURNALISTS

Guan's disappearance highlights the danger to reporters probing corruption in a country where officials are often close to business while also wielding power over police and courts.

Killings of reporters are virtually unheard of, but beatings, detentions and arrests are a risk for those who take on the powerful.

Guan's case follows the controversial arrest of a reporter from powerful state broadcaster China Central Television who was seized from her home in Beijing earlier this month by Shanxi prosecutors who claimed she took bribes.

The television reporter, Li Min, was investigating the prosecutors for a story when they traveled to Beijing to seize her, Chinese media said.

Provincial officials are not always able to extend their local power to control journalists in Beijing, whose employers often have government connections of their own.

A lawyer working for Li's family said that she appeared to be the victim of a "terrifying" abuse of power to silence her work.

"This is a crude trampling on citizens' constitutional rights to exercise oversight and criticize (officials)," the lawyer, Zhou Ze, said in a written statement.

A communist official from northeastern Liaoning province was sacked at the start of this year after he accused a journalist in Beijing of libeling him and ordered police to arrest her.

(Additional reporting by Michael Wei, Editing by Nick Macfie and Dean Yates)

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