BEIJING A newspaper in southwest China has sacked three of its editors over an advertisement saluting mothers of protesters killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, a source with knowledge of the gaffe said on Thursday.
Public discussion of the massacre is still taboo in China and the government has rejected calls to overturn the verdict that the student-led protests were subversive.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed when the army crushed the democracy movement on June 4, 1989.
Li Zhaojun, deputy editor-in-chief of the Chengdu Evening News in Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu, and two other members of the tabloid's editorial office had been dismissed, the source told Reuters requesting anonymity.
The newspaper and the Chengdu city government declined to comment. Li could not be reached.
On the 18th anniversary of the crackdown Monday, the lower right corner of page 14 of the Chengdu Evening News ran a tiny ad reading: "Paying tribute to the strong(-willed) mothers of June 4 victims."
Authorities interrogated newspaper staff to find out how the advertisement slipped past censors. Newspaper ads need to be vetted in China.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said Wednesday a young female clerk allowed the tribute to be published because she had never heard of the crackdown.
She phoned back the person who placed the ad to ask what June 4 meant and he told her it was the date of a mining disaster, the Post said.
It was unclear if the man who placed the advertisement had been arrested.
The man also tried to place the same advertisement with two other Chengdu newspapers, the source said.
"Staff at the other two newspapers also did not know what June 4 was, but they phoned and asked their superiors and he walked away," the source told Reuters.
The Communist Party has banned references to the crackdown in state media, the Internet and books as part of a whitewash campaign, meaning most young Chinese are ignorant of the events.
The 32-page Chengdu Evening News, which boasts a circulation of 200,000, has not suspended publication.