A court in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo has handed down a 14-year jail term to country's former internet czar for corruption, state media reported.
Lu Wei, once dubbed the "father" of the Great Firewall of government internet censorship, had pleaded guilty to taking 32 million yuan (U.S. $4.6 million) in bribes, state news agency Xinhua reported.
A former Xinhua journalist, Lu rose to become the agency's vice president from 2004-2011, and vice mayor of Beijing from 2011-2013. He was tried last October by the Ningbo Intermediate People's Court.
"The money and property that he had received in the form of bribes, as well as any interest arising from them, will be sought and recovered before being turned over to the state treasury," Xinhua quoted the court as saying.
Lu, who was also fined three million yuan, stated his acceptance of the judgment in court and said he would not appeal, it said.
The court judgment largely focused on his use of power to solicit money and property, in a judgment that was considerably blander in tone that the initial conclusions of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's own disciplinary arm, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
"Lu was found to have taken advantage of his positions to help certain organizations and personnel with internet management, running enterprises, personal promotions and job transfers between 2002 and 2017," the court said.
No judicial independence
Chinese courts are tightly controlled by the ruling party, and are frequently criticized for their lack of judicial independence.
The CCDI had earlier listed a litany of Lu's transgressions that included political, ideological and moral failings, including "weak party spirit," indiscriminate self-promotion and sexual misconduct.
Lu was also earlier accused of plotting against certain officials and recruiting others to his side, and departing from the party's hymn sheet when it came to discussing central government policy.
Zhejiang-based rights activist Zan Aizong said Lu had annoyed plenty of people.
"Online comments say that he was often verbally abusive and was given to fits of temper," Zan said. "If people working for him failed to carry out orders, he would often criticize them publicly."
But Zan said he didn't believe Lu's problematic management style was behind his political downfall.
"I am guessing that he just picked the wrong person to follow," he said. "His rock then disappeared, so he was detained on the pretext of corruption."
"Sadly for the internet, he wasn't detained because he cracked down on online freedom of expression," he said.
'A tool of an authoritarian regime'
Hunan-based rights activist Ou Biaofeng agreed.
"He was a tool of an authoritarian regime, and nothing more," Ou told RFA. "In the 13 years that I've been online, internet censorship has gotten progressively worse and worse."
"The controls have been particularly strict since the 18th Party Congress," Ou said, referring to the nationwide party conference during which Xi Jinping took control of the Communist Party.
Lu, a former Xinhua journalist and Beijing city government propaganda official, also presided over the active recruitment of some 10 million online web opinion makers, known colloquially as the 50-cent army, to post pro-government articles, videos, and tweets.
He publicly called on China's youth to become "staunch defenders of internet sovereignty," they said.
Lu, 59, was last seen in public on Oct. 24, on a Shaanxi-TV prime-time news bulletin, lauding President Xi Jinping’s "vision," Caixin reported.
He was greeted in Mandarin by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during a December 2014 trip to the United States, during which he also told Apple's Tim Cook that Beijing would decide whether to allow products to enter the Chinese market.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hu Lihan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.