Police in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing are putting pressure on a whistle-blowing journalist to hand over incriminating sex tapes exposing a local member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, after 10 city officials were reportedly fired in connection with the scandal.
Beijing-based investigative journalist Zhu Ruifeng, who runs the whistle-blowing website Supervision by the People, published a five-year-old video last year, showing Lei Zhengfu having sex with an 18-year-old female while he was Party secretary of Chongqing's Beibei district.
The tape was one of several formerly held in the Chongqing police department vaults and was leaked by an insider, who has already been detained by police.
Lei was removed from his post after the 36-second video clip went viral online, sparking widespread outrage on China's popular microblogs, where users often vent anger about official excesses and abuse of power.
Threatened with arrest
Chongqing police visited Zhu's home in Beijing on Sunday, and questioned him at a Beijing police station, threatening him with arrest if he refused to hand over the remaining sex tapes still in his possession, Zhu said on Monday.
"Yesterday at about 6:00 p.m., five police came knocking on our door and told me to open up ... [they said they were from] the Dewai police station," said Zhu.
"But there were three policemen from Chongqing behind them."
Zhu refused to open the door at the time, but was later summoned for questioning which lasted for seven hours, and during which he had lawyers present.
"They wanted to know all the details of my sources, and the tapes that I still have in my possession," he said. "I refused to hand them over."
"They can use technology to discover who my sources were, anyway," he said. "My professional ethics as a journalist mean that I don't care. I will face up to this."
"I told them that I wasn't afraid of anything they would do."
One of the lawyers present, Li Heping, said there was no problem with Zhu being called as a witness.
"Perhaps they want to find out how he got hold of the tapes," he said. "But there isn't enough to charge him with any crime, in my opinion."
"If officials are corrupt, and they break the law, then this should be dealt with in the light of day."
Li said Zhu's role as a whistle-blower could promote better government.
"There would be a lot less corruption if all of China's citizens did the sort of thing that Zhu Ruifeng did," he said.
The threats to Zhu came as the authorities fired 10 mid-ranking Chongqing officials as part of the ongoing probe into the Lei Zhengfu scandal.
The Chongqing sex tapes were made by a property developer as a way of blackmailing top municipal officials.
The company paid young women aged 18-20 U.S. $48 to have sex with the officials and to record the liaisons secretly.
Zhu has said in previous interviews that the woman in the tape was described to him as a "gift" sent to Lei by a businessman in the construction industry who wanted to seal a lucrative property deal.
"Government sources said the 10 officials ... were removed for being involved in the same sex video scandal as Lei," the China Daily newspaper reported.
The paper said local authorities were treating the blackmail operation as "a criminal ring that used young women to seduce officials and then used secretly filmed sex videos to extort them in 2008 and 2009."
Among those already detained was Xiao Ye, 45, head of property developer Yonghuang Group, it said.
Zhu began working as a print journalist for the magazine Fang Yuan, which is sponsored by China's Supreme People's Court, in 2000, before leaving to set up as a freelancer in 2006.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.