GUANGDONG- Journalists at the Chinese newspaper The Southern Weekly (also known as the Southern Weekend) have gone on a rare strike, claiming in an open letter that a New Year's editorial calling for political reform and protection of individual rights was censored and re-written as Communist party propaganda.

Photo: Robert Buecheler via Wikipedia

Ranked 174th out of 179 countries for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, China is seeing a very rare protest against the censorship imposed by its government.

Dozens of people gathered outside the offices of the newspaper, in the southern city of Guangzhou, in Guangdong province, in support of the journalists and holding signs demanding "freedom, constitutionalism and democracy.”

"The NanfangMedia Group [that publishes The Southern Weekly] is relatively willing to speak the truth in China so we need to stand up for its courage and support it now," Ao Jiayang, one of the protesters, told Reuters.

The South China Morning Post reports that newspaper management issued a statement falsly claiming that the editorial had been written by an editor and was not a last minute alteration by the province’s propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen.

The editorial staff themselves later issued a statement denying the management's account and announcing a strike: "The editorial staff will fight against the falsified statement … until the issue is resolved, we will not do any editorial work."

According to journalists from The Southern Weekly, more than 1,000 stories were censored or abandoned since Guangdong province propaganda chief Tuo Zhen took his post last year.

Searches for The Southern Weekly on China's version of Twitter, Weibo, were blocked on Monday according to the China Media Project. A message said : “According to relevant laws, regulations and policies the search results for ‘Southern Weekly’ cannot be shown.”

This crackdown on freedom of expression comes despite pledges of change from the new Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.