Reporter’s Horror Attack (Updated)

Fang Xuanchang, an editor at Caijing Magazine, was brutally attacked while walking home last week. He believes the attack was retribution for his reporting. From Global Times:

Fang Xuanchang was walking home at about 10:40 pm and suddenly felt a blow to his back, near the intersection by Zengguang Lu and Shoutinan Lu. He was then beaten about his back and head. He turned over and saw two men brandishing iron bars, the Beijing News reported.

The two men were both about 1.6 meters tall and well built, Fang told police. Fang tried to communicate with the men during the beating, but they ignored him. In the end, Fang was forced to try to shield himself from the blows before the men finally retreated.

…Fang said he believed the attackers were trying to kill him. “It is abominable behavior to attack a journalist. But investigative reporters should always be prepared for this,” Fang told the Beijing Times.

Ganjiakou police station officers in Haidian district have started investigations but the two men remain at large.

On his blog, Evan Osnos published Fang’s firsthand account of the attack:

The entire incident lasted about four minutes. The next day, by examining the bloodstains on the street, I remembered that there were five or six rounds of attacks, leaving huge blood stains around those areas. There was blood tracked over fifty metres. When I was being attacked, there were many people watching, but the attackers didn’t have to care because, perhaps according to their experience, no one would stand up and help. No one would even dare to call the police. Based on all of this evidence, the two attackers were probably experienced professionals. Their intention was to kill me on the spot, or leave me bleed to death by preventing me from getting to the hospital.

…This is has been a shock to Chinese journalists. At first, I worried about whether or not should I inform my fellow journalists, because it might have a negative impact on their future reporting. Some of the journalists might not want to be a whistleblower, to expose the truth, if their personal safety is at stake. However, if this type of thing goes unnoticed and un-discussed, China will have even less chance to build a system that can protect its journalists from future tragedy.

Read more about violence against journalists in China, via CDT.

Update: Foreign Policy has more about the muckraking science journalism community that Fang was a part of:

Why would someone try to kill Fang Xuanchang? No one knows, or even seems to care. The attackers remain at large, despite an ongoing police investigation and Caijing’s best efforts to cooperate with the police and involve the All-China Journalists Association. The attack was covered in brief in Beijing-based newspapers, including a brief editorial in a state-run newspaper arguing that journalists shouldn’t be attacked. But no one in the Chinese media has gotten into the question of who would attack Fang — and more importantly, why exactly Fang might have been attacked.

For Fang’s colleagues, however, the message is clear: Reporting on controversial topics, as Fang has done, is unsafe. Journalists who are abused don’t necessarily find out who has attacked them or why, but the message sent to their friends and colleagues is clear: Don’t go there, or you could be next. It has a chilling effect on a wide circle of people. In the case of science journalism, the financial and political stakes are increasingly high, and the personal risks might be increasingly high as well.

Fang is one of the leading figures among China’s scientific muckrakers — a scourge of academic and government-sponsored pseudoscience and a critic of public and private quackery. For more than 10 years as a journalist, editor, and blogger on the influential (although frequently blocked) Chinese watchdog website New Threads, Fang has taken on academics listing faked awards and publishing plagiarized papers; hawkers of herbal cancer “cures,” such as Wang Zhenguo, peddler of the Tian Xian herbal cancer treatment; and Chinese scientists who claim to predict earthquakes, among other targets. But paranoia and anger, even violence, mark some recent responses to Fang’s work.

For more about New Threads and its work read this article from the South China Morning Post reposted on China’s Scientific & Academic Integrity Watch (first published in January).