August 29, 2006

Chinese paper vows to support staff in defamation case

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese financial newspaper has said
it will support two of its journalists being sued for
defamation over a news report that alleged mistreatment of
workers at a China plant manufacturing iPod music players.

The case was brought by manufacturer Foxconn, a
Shenzhen-based unit of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.,
against reporter Wang You and editor Weng Bao, of the
Shanghai-based daily the China Business News.

Foxconn is suing for defamation and asking for 30 million
yuan ($3.77 million) in compensation over a June 15 report in
the newspaper that accused the company of violating workers'
rights by forcing them to work overtime for low pay.

IPod maker Apple Computer Inc. said earlier this month that
Foxconn let employees at the China plant work longer hours than
allowed by Apple's code of conduct and that it had taken steps
to address the issue.

The China Business News urged Foxconn to drop the case,
saying in a statement provided to Reuters it "strongly
condemned" the lawsuit and would do whatever it could to
support its journalists.

The newspaper also called on the Shenzhen Intermediate
People's Court to unfreeze the journalists' assets and warned
that if the case was not dropped it would take legal action of
its own against Foxconn.

A spokesman for Foxconn could not immediately be reached
for comment.

The lawsuit, which is one of the biggest defamation cases
filed in China against reporters, has sparked concerns about
journalists' rights.

"It is a test of reporters' dignity and rights," Weng Bao
told Reuters on Tuesday. "Legal protection for reporters is
still far from sufficient."

The lawsuit has also triggered criticism in the tightly
controlled mainstream state media.

"(The case) has sent a dangerous signal to society, and
means legal procedures could be used to suppress freedom of
speech," said an editorial in the official China Youth Daily.

About 100 people have also put their names to an Internet
campaign to support the reporters, the Beijing News said.

($1=7.964 Yuan)