A chinese newspaper pleaded with police yesterday to release an investigative reporter accused of defamation.
The state-run New Express tabloid printed a front-page commentary begging the police in the south-central city of Changsha to set reporter Chen Yongzhou free, under the headline: "Please release him."
Chen was detained after writing more than a dozen stories criticising the finances of a major state-owned construction-equipment maker.
Chen's arrest, which coincides with new curbs on journalists, lawyers and Internet users in China, throws into question the role of whistleblowers as the country's leadership moves to eradicate graft.
"When the government is cracking down on freedom of expression and arresting journalists...it seems to cast doubt on how serious this anti-corruption drive is," said Ms Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch.
Chen reported that Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology engaged in sales fraud, exaggerated its profits and used public relations to defame its competitors, accusations that were strongly denied by the company.
The commentary went viral on the Internet, and was re-published by the Chinese media with no obvious antagonism from the censorship authorities.