Quanzhou officials need to come clean about chemical leak
Editor's note: Four policemen of Quanzhou, Fujian province, conducting a "routine inspection" of a hotel in the city on the night of Nov 11, entered a room in which a female reporter of Caixin Weekly was staying. The reporter is investigating a recent pollution incident caused by a petrochemical corporation and claimed it was part of the local government's efforts to obstruct her probe. Columnist Cai Fei comments in a post published by one of People's Daily's WeChat platforms Xiakedao:
The police bureau of Quanzhou apologized for its "simple work method, improper law enforcement and negative social influence", and punished the relevant policemen on Nov 20. But that has not answered the question of whether the actions of the four policemen were associated with her investigation.
Her encounter with the police was not made public until the journalist told of her experience three days ago on the internet. But her account of what happened reinforced the belief that some people have that local officials still regard reporters as troublemakers and try their best to escape the media's scrutiny when something unpleasant happens.
The reporter was investigating the leak of 7 tonnes of aromatic C9 solvent into the sea at an oil terminal in Quanzhou when a tanker was being loaded on Nov 3. The local media had announced on Nov 6 that the air, running water and sea environment in Quanzhou were safe, and the local government did not make its first comment on the incident until Nov 8.
As the government's statement shows, after the chemical leak 52 people were taken to hospital with severe headaches, vomiting and sore throats after breathing the air near the site of the spill, and 152 fish farms have been seriously affected. The local government had obviously withheld the information for five days.
The Quanzhou government is obliged to explain why it took five days to inform the public of the leak and say what it is doing to clean up the pollution. The higher judicial authorities should look into whether the police harassed the reporter, and tell the people whether it is due to "simple work method" or whether the "improper law enforcement" was to protect local government officials.