A Chinese website which aimed to expose official corruption says it has been filtered out of top search engine Baidu.
The site had refused to pull a story about forced evictions in the eastern province of Shandong, amid renewed promises from Beijing for a tougher stance on graft.
The founder of China Justice and Anti-Corruption Net, Cheng Kangming, said the apparent move to filter the website came after he posted a story from a group of evictees from Shandong's Jinxiang county.
"They had only bought their homes a little more than a year ago, and the Jinxiang county Party secretary, Zhang Shengming, ordered that if someone had paid 200,000 yuan (nearly 30,220 U.S. dollars), then they should be compensated 100,000 yuan (nearly 15,110 U.S. dollars)," Cheng said.
Cheng's site was set up to help groups of ordinary people wishing to complain about official wrongdoing.
Countless ordinary Chinese attempt to petition higher authorities annually over forced evictions, compensation for land used in development, official harassment, and other grievances.
Many face detentions, beatings, and further harassment for their pains. Some have been sent to labor camp, or incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals.
'War on graft'?
Chinese President Hu Jintao warned of a renewed war on graft on Monday, saying the situation was "grave."
He pledged to the ruling Communist Party's discipline inspection commission to "combat graft strictly and punish corrupt officials severely" so as to regain people's trust.
Hu warned of a "grave situation and arduous tasks," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Cheng said he had posted the story on the Jinxiang eviction dispute on his website in late December.
"The evictees reported the case to [our website], and we posted it, based on letters we received from the ordinary people," Cheng said.
A few days later, Cheng got a visit from six men sent by the deputy director of the Jinxiang county propaganda office.
"He sent six people here to Beijing immediately, police as well, and they were able to meet with me through a connection," he said.
"They wanted us to remove the story, but we said we wouldn't withdraw it."
Further visits from the Jinxiang government and a phone call purporting to be from the Beijing municipal press office also failed to work on Cheng and his team.
"We weren't having any of their nonsense," he said. "We have seen a lot of this childishness in the past."
An official who answered the phone at the Beijing municipal government press office said there was no such official in the office.
"Did he say he was from the Beijing municipal press office? We don't have anyone called Xu Lei here," he said.
Cheng said the filtering on Baidu began on Jan. 4. "From then on, you couldn't see any results for a search including the words 'the luckiest Party secretary from Jinxiang county'."
"From Jan. 7, they had blocked even the name of the whole website," he said.
Second website targeted
Deputy director Zeng Zixiang of the Jinxiang county propaganda department said he had heard of Cheng's site, but declined to go into details.
"This guy runs a private website," Zeng said. "We reported it to the Party secretary and other leaders."
"[His story is] not true. All of these problems were sorted out when the evictions and demolitions took place," Zeng said.
"We are not going to bandy words with this guy."
"We asked them to take it down because it was about Jinxiang. He didn't take it down, so he hasn't taken it down."
However, a second website, Image, which used Cheng's story in its entirety, said they too had had a visit from Jinxiang county officials, according to its editor, surnamed Zhu.
"They wanted us to delete it and said they would give us money," Zhu said.
"We refused ... After that, they hired [online ghostwriters] to bad-mouth our site on the Internet."
The government punished 146,517 officials last year for disciplinary violations, including 5,098 leaders at the county level or above, while 804 officials were referred for prosecution, official media reported.
Discipline inspection officials recovered 8.97 billion yuan (1.35 billion U.S. dollars) in economic losses for the state during 2010.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.