China's censors ban websites from reposting articles by Caixin Online 'over open letter from lawyers'

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese censors have temporarily banned websites from reposting articles by respected publisher Caixin, reports said, in the latest sign of tightened restrictions on media in the country.

Caixin is known for its relatively liberal tone and willingness to criticise the authorities. Its online reports touching on issues deemed sensitive by the ruling Communist party are sometimes deleted but preserved on other news sites which have republished them.

The censorship authorities this week issued a two-month ban on such republications, the US-based China Digital Times (CDT) and Radio France International (RFI) reported.

"Over the past year, Caixin Online has repeatedly violated news and propaganda discipline and published reports with problematic orientations whose republication elsewhere has had a seriously negative influence," the order said, according to CDT.

Caixin on its website last week published an open letter from 168 lawyers opposing new regulations which ban them from mobilising support for clients through online posts and street protests. It was swiftly deleted.

The treatment of lawyers has become a sensitive issue in China, with the government jailing a series of outspoken attorneys who had tried to rally public support through such measures.

RFI cited a source as saying the lawyers' letter was the trigger for the ban.

China ranks 176th out of 180 countries in press freedom rankings compiled by Paris-based campaign group Reporters Without Borders.

Many Chinese journalists say censorship has increased since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

Caixin was founded in 2010 by editor Hu Shuli, one of the early pioneers of investigative journalism in China, and focuses on economic and financial news.

A staff member at the magazine who declined to be named told AFP the reports "appeared" to be accurate.

"Two months will go by quickly," the staff member added.