Two journalists in eastern China were sentenced to up to 10 years in jail for publishing an unauthorized magazine that exposed local land disputes, a court official said yesterday.
Zhu Wanxiang (祝萬祥) and Wu Zhengyou (吳正有) were convicted by the Liandu district court in Lishui city, Zhejiang Province, on Tuesday for publishing the New China Youth magazine without having the approval of media authorities, a court official said.
"Formal charges against the two men included illegal business operations, fraud and extortion," said the official, who declined to be named.
Zhu and Wu were also convicted of raising 2 million yuan (US$240,000) in investment funds for the magazine, which was deemed illegal fundraising since the magazine was not registered, the official said.
"A total of seven people were tried, three were convicted and sentenced to 10, six and one years respectively, and the four others were released," he added.
Zhu received the 10-year sentence and Wu was jailed for six years, while the identity and crimes of the third person who was sentenced to one year were unclear.
According to the Beijing Times, Zhu had registered the New China Youth Joint Company Ltd in Hong Kong in August 2002, but it was not registered in China.
A Xinhua news agency report said last month the action against the magazine was taken largely because of two articles that focused on land rights disputes, an issue that has become one of the biggest causes of civil unrest in China.
The articles were titled: "Appeal of the Peasants," and "When Power Replaces Law, What Happens to the Law? Return Our Human Rights."
The articles came amid much tension in Lishui city after clashes between local farmers and police erupted violently in May last year. The farmers had been protesting the seizure of their land without adequate compensation.
"When local villagers saw these articles, they volunteered to give the magazine 30,000 yuan. This constituted bribe-taking so they were charged with fraud," the court official said.
"These journalists also threatened the local government. They said if the government did not resolve the peasants' legitimate demands, then they would write up the stories. This constituted extortion," he added.
China's ruling Communist Party maintains elaborate controls over the media, even though the state constitution specifically calls for freedom of the press.
The latest jailings of journalists are not the first in China, nor was it the first time that a media publication has gotten into trouble for publicizing land disputes.