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Chinese Reporter's Murder Causes Outrage Among China's Journalists

A Chinese journalist has been beaten to death in the country's rural North while reportedly investigating the region's notoriously unsafe coal mining industry. Journalists and newspapers in China have criticized the death, and some fear the authorities will not investigate thoroughly. Sam Beattie reports from Beijing.

Lan Chengzhen's colleagues say he died from a brain hemorrhage on January 10, after being attacked by men outside a coal mine in the northern province of Shanxi.

Lan was a newly hired local reporter for the Beijing-based China Trade News. His colleagues have been quoted in Chinese news reports as saying he was investigating the region's coal mining industry.

Shanxi is one of China's largest producers of coal, and the focus of efforts to improve the industry's safety record, which is the worst in the world. More than 4,700 Chinese coal miners died in mine-related accidents in 2006.

Chinese media have quoted local officials as suggesting Lan may have been trying to blackmail the mine's owners, with the threat of publishing negative stories about them.

Julien Pain, a spokesman for the journalists' group Reporters without Borders, says he fears this is an attempt by the authorities to avoid investigating Lan's death.

"They suspect that the journalist was carrying out an illegal activity but in this case we have no evidence of that. What we know is he was beaten up on the mine site," said Pain. "And that the authorities have to carry out a thorough investigation on this case, and really the reaction of the authorities makes us fear they might give up on this case."

Cases have been reported of Chinese reporters, or people calling themselves reporters, attempting to blackmail the owners of unsafe mines.

But Chinese journalists and postings on mainland web sites have said that even if the accusation against Lan were accurate, that is no excuse for his being beaten to death.

Journalists, including colleagues of the dead reporter, have gone to the scene of the murder to investigate the incident. Newspapers such as the Southern Metropolitan Daily, meanwhile, have called for a thorough investigation into the case.