A Chinese newspaper is calling for the release one of its journalists who was arrested after exposing alleged financial wrongdoing at a state-owned company.
The New Express tabloid on Wednesday published an impassioned front-page editorial with a bold headline reading, "Please Release Our Man."
The journalist, Chen Yongzhou, was arrested Friday on suspicion of "damaging the reputation of a business" after he wrote a series of reports on the finances of the Zoomlion construction equipment company.
Chen's reports claimed Zoomlion artificially inflated its profits. The company, which is listed in the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges, reported revenues of $7.6 billion last year. The Hunan provincial government owns about one-sixth of the company.
The New Express, which is located in the southern city of Guangzhou, says there is no evidence that Chen committed a crime. The strongly worded editorial said journalists should not be punished for writing stories that embarrass powerful officials or companies.
The article also said authorities are also hunting for the paper's economic news director, who is on the run. The publication warned it "may be small, but we have a backbone."
The paper has in the past reported on controversial stories. Earlier this year, another of its reporters was arrested after he called on authorities to investigate a former senior official in the southwest megacity of Chongqing.
President Xi Jinping has vowed to end widespread corruption in the ruling Communist Party. However, at the same time, he has led a campaign to arrest, prosecute, or disappear those exposing official corruption.
The party also passed a recent rule threatening Internet users with up to three years in jail if they write "defamatory" messages that are re-posted online a certain number of times.
Chinese newspapers are also tightly controlled by the state and face punishment for angering Beijing. Because of this, it is rare for mainland newspapers to explicitly protest government policies.
In a rare instance earlier this year, staff at the relatively outspoken Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou went on a week-long strike to protest government censorship.
That incident quickly turned into a nationwide online protest against China's strict media censorship, with celebrities and other public figures expressing their support for the paper.