Chinese police have launched a manhunt for 20 suspects believed to have beaten a journalist to death as he conducted interviews at a coal mine, state media reported.
The official Xinhua News Agency said late Wednesday that 70 police officers had been assigned to investigate the case in Datong city in Shanxi — a northern province that is a center of the country’s notoriously dangerous and corrupt mining industry.
The Xinhua report said some breakthroughs had been made but did not give details.
Xinhua quoted a police officer as saying the owner of the coal mine in Datong’s Hunyuan county “sent more than 20 thugs” to beat up reporter Lan Chengzhang and a taxi driver with him on Jan. 9. The owner and the mine were not identified.
Lan, hired by the China Trade News on Dec. 27, died a day after the assault, Wang Jianfeng, a manager at the newspaper said Tuesday. Wang also would not give the name of the coal mine where Lan was doing interviews.
The taxi driver suffered two broken legs, Xinhua said.
Xinhua reported that Datong city government spokesman, Gu Shengming, said Lan had no press card and his interview was not officially approved. However, Gu confirmed that Lan had been hired by the newspaper, it said.
There had been speculation in the Chinese press that Lan was not a real journalist.
China has seen several people over recent years who have posed as reporters in order to extort money from corrupt officials or who demand payment for false promises of favorable news coverage.
China’s mines are the world’s deadliest, with floods, fires, explosions and other mishaps killing 4,746 people last year.
Mine owners and managers are accused of ignoring safety rules in order to speed up production, and of covering up accidents after they happen.
Most miners are landless farmers with little training and are easily intimidated by mine owners who frequently employ gangs of armed thugs and have strong ties to local government officials.