Chinese Question Editor Who Broke SARS Story

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By: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press Writer

(AP) An editor whose newspaper broke the news of China’s first new SARS case was detained and questioned by prosecutors, a human rights center reported.

Cheng Yizhong, editor in chief of the Southern Metropolitan Daily, declined to comment on his reported questioning, but appeared to indicate the issue may have been resolved.

“It’s inconvenient for me to speak right now, but this matter should be over,” said Cheng, reached at the newspaper’s offices.

Cheng was taken from his office Tuesday in the southern city of Guangzhou by three members of the municipal prosecutor’s office, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said. It said he was released eight hours later.

Phone calls to Guangzhou prosecutors weren’t answered, and there has been no official announcement of the reason for Cheng’s questioning.

The Southern Metropolitan Daily had embarrassed the Communist government by reporting that a man in Guangzhou was suspected of having SARS on Dec. 26 — a day before authorities informed the World Health Organization of the case.

The journalist who reported the story, Zeng Wenqiong, has not come to work for several days, said a newspaper switchboard operator. The operator declined to give her name or other details, and it wasn’t clear whether Zeng had also been detained.

China’s government is sensitive to any suggestion that it isn’t reacting promptly and decisively to SARS. Authorities were criticized for their slow reaction to the earlier outbreak, which killed 349 people on China’s mainland.

Chinese journalists who anger local authorities often find themselves accused of corruption or other unrelated crimes. Some have been jailed after exposing embezzlement and other official abuses.

“Provincial party leaders are extremely unhappy that the Southern Daily failed to get the approval from the provincial party committee to print the SARS story,” the Information Center said.

Cheng’s newspaper also had reported on the politically explosive case last year of a young man who was beaten to death after being detained by Guangzhou police for lacking residency papers.

A public uproar over the death prompted Chinese leaders to issue new policies on how police are to treat migrant workers.

The SARS patient in Guangzhou, a 32-year-old television producer, was later confirmed to have severe acute respiratory syndrome. He was released from a hospital Thursday after being pronounced recovered.

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