Chinese censors have cracked down on blogger Zhu Ruifeng, an apparent signal that there are limits to the government's tolerance for citizens assisting with the exposure of corrupt officials.
On July 16, one day after the Beijing-based blogger and founder of an anti-corruption website published corruption allegations about the chief secretary of Jinjiang city in Fujian province, his online presence disappeared.
Government censors disabled all four of his microblog accounts and blocked mainland access to his website, Renmin Jinduwang ("People's Supervision"), which is registered in Hong Kong. Zhu issued a statement through another Sina Weibo user on July 17 saying that he is safe but that his "microblogs have to take a summer vacation."
In November, the 43-year-old had gained global recognition and became an overnight celebrity in China for exposing secretly filmed sex tapes of Chongqing province district chief secretary, Lei Zhengfu. Lei lost his job and is standing trial for accepting bribes of 3.16 million yuan (US$515,000) in relation to the sex scandal, according to news reports.
Zhu, who does not have state-issued journalist's credentials, founded "People's Supervision" in 2006, according to news reports. He told The New York Times the website has exposed 100 corrupt officials, bringing down a third of them. The site relies largely on publishing evidence from anonymous whistle-blowers.
Zhu had received mixed responses from state media and police for his most famous story. Beijing police initially offered to protect him from any retaliation for his reporting on the Chongqing sex-tape scandal, according to foreign media outlets with which Zhu spoke. The state-run newspaper, China Daily, welcomed what it called the "prowess" of Zhu and other activists who use the Internet as a "tool against abusive officials" in an editorial published the same month. A subsequent China Daily editorial published in December urged the government to "help Internet users fight corruption," linking their work with President Xi Jinping's campaign to root out corruption from society.
But in January, police detained Zhu for six hours of questioning at a Beijing police station, according to news reports. Zhu later claimed on his microblog that police pressured him to hand over his tapes and reveal his sources and threatened to charge him with concealing evidence, the reports said.
Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre and professor of Chinese politics at the University of Sydney, told CPJ that Zhu's case illustrates the limited scope of the government's anti-corruption campaign.
"It strikes me as a very political campaign aimed at certain targets rather than a moral campaign broadly addressing officials' misuse of public positions for private gain," he said. "The public is already quite cynical about this campaign, and it doesn't look like Xi is aiming to promote deeper cultural change in the [Chinese Communist] Party."
Last week, a Chinese journalist with a newspaper affiliated with state news agency Xinhua used his personal microblog to accuse the head of state-owned conglomerate China Resources of corruption, according to news reports. China Resources, in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange, denied the allegations and threatened legal action "against any party which intentionally released to the public false or unsubstantiated information which jeopardized the reputation of the Company." Subsequently, the government announced it was auditing China Resources, news reports said.
[Reporting from Hong Kong]