A Beijing blogger once praised by Chinese authorities for exposing a sex scandal involving a Chongqing city official is now facing pressure from them to stop his independent anti-corruption campaign.
Chinese police questioned Zhu Ruifeng for six hours at a Beijing police station on Monday as part of an investigation into the scandal that he revealed on November 20, when he published images of a sex tape featuring Chongqing district party chief Lei Zhengfu. At the time, Zhu also claimed to have other sex tapes incriminating officials in the central Chinese city.
Police get tough
Writing on his blog after Monday's questioning, Zhu said the interrogators wanted him to hand over the videos and reveal the identity of the Chongqing official who provided them to him. Zhu said he refused to betray his source. He also wrote that he would rather go to prison than commit such an act.
A lawyer for Zhu who attended the questioning told Western news agencies that the officers threatened to charge the blogger with concealing evidence. Zhu also said he agreed to appear at the police station only after several officers came to his home late Sunday and demanded that he face questioning. He said some of the police appeared to be from Chongqing.
Blogger's former praise
Zhu's treatment represents a marked contrast from two months ago, when the state-run China Daily newspaper welcomed what it called the "prowess" of Zhu and other activists who use the Internet as a "tool against abusive officials." Zhu's images of Lei Zhengfu having sex with a teenage mistress went viral on Chinese social media sites and prompted authorities to fire the Chongqing official within days.
Speaking in late November, the blogger said Beijing police had called him to express concern for his well-being and offered to protect him from perceived intimidation by Chongqing authorities.
A major development in the case last week may explain Zhu's new predicament.
In reports Thursday, Chinese state media said authorities had identified and fired 10 more Chongqing officials who appeared in sex tapes related to the Lei Zhengfu affair. Zhu has not released any images of those tapes himself. The firings exposed illicit behavior by other local party leaders and managers of state-owned enterprises.
Chinese state media said the 11 Chongqing officials were entrapped by a construction company which hired women to seduce the men and secretly record the encounters several years ago. The reports said the developer used the tapes for a criminal extortion racket that pressured the officials into granting construction contracts.
Recent revelations of corruption and excess by the party elite in Chongqing and elsewhere have repulsed many Chinese and embarrassed Beijing's new leaders, who have repeatedly vowed to deal with the problem, seeing it as a threat to Communist rule. The widening of the Chongqing scandal to include 11 officials appears to have pressured authorities into pursuing damage control.
Digital rights advocates say China also is reluctant to let activists such as Zhu pursue anti-corruption campaigns that undermine public confidence in senior officials.
Yibing Feng of VOA's Mandarin Service contributed to this report.