Prominent Beijing-based human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang has hit out openly at China's former security chief Zhou Yongkang, calling him "a traitor to the people."
In a post made to his verified accounts on Twitter-like services run by Sina, Tencent and Sohu, Pu said the domestic security system masterminded by Zhou had brought tragedy to many, directly or indirectly.
"I am blowing the whistle using my real name," Pu wrote. "If we are to continue under the deep shadow of 'stability maintenance, then it cannot be without a reckoning with Zhou's security model."
"After 10 years of this person in power, his poison has spread across the land; he is a traitor to the people!" he wrote.
However, Pu said in an interview on Thursday that his complaint wasn't only leveled at Zhou, but at the entire 'stability maintenance' system, which now costs more than the entire budget of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
"China is increasingly taking a path that sacrifices the environment, and sacrifices justice," he said. "We haven't been able to establish the respect for due legal process and for the rules that exist in a society ruled by law."
He said Zhou's five years at the helm of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's politics and legal affairs committees had been a divisive one for Chinese society.
"A lot of social tensions have been heightened, which is a key factor in social instability," Pu said. "The idea of a harmonious society is dead, and we should say goodbye to stability maintenance, too."
"We need a sense of right and wrong."
Close to Bo Xilai
Zhou retired from his seat on China's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee during the leadership transition at the 18th Party Congress last November, though he is still a high-ranking Party member.
He is widely seen as being politically close to ousted former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, who is currently awaiting trial on charges of corruption and sexual misconduct, and who has been judged by Party leaders to bear "major responsibility" in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011.
Bo is being held at a secret location while his wife Gu Kailai received a suspended death sentence in August for Heywood's murder.
Lawyers have hit out at the amount of power wielded by the political and legal affairs committees at every level of government during Zhou's tenure, saying that they are in effect a court above every court in the land.
Following Bo's March 15 ouster, China's Internet was awash with rumors that Zhou had tried to stage a coup in Beijing, and that gunshots were heard in the vicinity of the central government compound of Zhongnanhai.
The rumors were quickly removed from China's hugely popular microblogging platforms.
Last March, delegates to the National People's Congress (NPC) approved a rise of 11.5 percent in China's domestic security budget, to 701 billion yuan (U.S.$111 billion), with premier Wen Jiabao pledging a full modernization and expansion of the country's main riot-quelling force, the People's Armed Police.
A survey by the Party-backed think tank, the China Academy of Social Sciences, showed that there were more than 90,000 "mass incidents" across the country during the course of 2006. Since then, the government has been reluctant to make such figures public.
Official documents leaked to the Chinese media have revealed that officials are typically ordered to step up intelligence activities among the local population and to focus in particular on "hostile foreign forces" who might try to collaborate with local activists to organize "subversive" gatherings during major events.
According to rights activists and political dissidents, state security police have stepped up the use of questioning, house arrest, and informal detention in tourist resorts ahead of key government meetings.
Former rights lawyer Guo Feixiong said the entire system made the judiciary unable to function, comparing it to a fascist system.
"China's [internal] spying system damages the rule of law and it damages human rights," Guo said. "It has been strongly criticized all along."
Meanwhile, Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said his own attack on Zhou's security regime had likely landed him in jail.
"In 2007, I wrote an article in which I said that Zhou Yongkang should be sent to the gallows," Hu said. "In 2008, that was used in part as evidence to convict me of subversion."
"[Former president] Jiang Zemin and Zhou Yongkang should be sent to the international criminal court for crimes against humanity."
Stability maintenance also includes round-the-clock surveillance of Internet activity, along with monitoring of text messages and microblog posts, and the rapid deletion or blocking of any offending content.
Pu's post about Zhou was deleted soon after it appeared, he said.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.