Chinese state media have reported growing concern about the fate of a journalist detained by police in southern China last week for his reporting of alleged corruption at a state-owned company.
Chen Youngzhou disappeared last Friday in Guangzhou, where he had written a dozen articles for the New Express newspaper, criticizing the Zoomlion construction company. Zoomlion is based in the south-central Chinese city of Changsha.
Chinese media said police from Changsha detained Chen in Guangzhou on suspicion of damaging the reputation of a business. His whereabouts are unknown.
In reports published Thursday, official news agencies said the Chinese government's media regulator expressed "concern" about the fate of the journalist. The General Association of Press and Publishing (GAPP) said it "firmly supports the media conducting normal reporting activities ... and firmly protects the legal rights of journalists."
Official news agencies also said the central government-backed All China Journalists Association called for the police to handle Chen's case "according to the law, guarantee the journalist's safety and prevent extorting confessions by torture."
In a rare protest against Chinese authorities, the New Express published a front-page message about Chen on Wednesday, saying in large characters "Release Him Please." It followed up on Thursday with a similar front-page plea, saying "Again We Ask For His Release."
The U.S. government's Open Source Center says the tabloid's headline immediately drew attention from Chinese Internet users and became a hot topic on China-based microblogs.
The chief editor of respected Chinese financial magazine Caijing posted a message on Sina Weibo calling Chen's arrest "arbitrary" and saying it creates "fear" among fellow media workers.
He Gang also asked if a reporter from state television network CCTV ought to be arrested for allegedly damaging the reputation of international coffee chain Starbucks. CCTV had been criticizing what it calls the "unreasonably pricey" coffee sold by Starbucks in China since October 20.
Chen's reports in the New Express claimed Zoomlion artificially inflated its profits, which the company said amounted to $7.6 billion last year.
Zoomlion is listed on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges. Since Chen's arrest began making international headlines Wednesday, Zoomlion's shares fell nearly 6 percent.
Chinese police have told state media that Chen fabricated facts about Zoomlion's finances in the stories, which were written between September of last year and August, 2013. The paper says it investigated Chen's reporting and only found one minor factual flaw.
Since Chinese newspapers are subject to state censorship, explicit protests against government policies are usual.
A New Express worker contacted by VOA said all employees were told not to speak with foreign news media, for their own safety. The employee declined to be identified or to provide any further details.
A Thursday editorial in the Global Times, the Communist Party's official mouthpiece, called for Chen's case to be dealt with "according to the law," but stressed that the key issue is whether his report was accurate.
A separate report in the Times, which often reflects government viewpoints, quoted analysts who defended Chen, arguing that even articles with mistaken facts should be protected by the law.
In another high-profile media rights case earlier this year, staff at the relatively outspoken Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou went on a weekl-ong strike to protest government censorship.
That incident grew into a nationwide online protest against China's strict media censorship, with celebrities and other public figures speaking out in support of the newspaper.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to end widespread corruption in the ruling Communist Party.