BEIJING – After a late-night stand-off with police at the door of his home Sunday night, Chinese investigative blogger Zhu Rufeng spent all of Monday in an even longer stand-off with authorities at a Beijing police station.
Two months earlier, Zhu had released a graphic sex tape exposing a scandal in which officials in the city of Chongqing were filmed having sex with young women hired by a property developer to extort favorable contracts from the city. Eleven officials were fired.
So, when police from Chongqing showed up at his door late Sunday night, he feared they intended to detain or arrest him, as has often happened to others considered troublesome by Chinese authorities.
The police went away only after Zhu promised to show up voluntarily the next morning at a local police station.
On Monday morning at the police station, the officers said they never intended to arrest Zhu, according to Li Heping, one of Zhu’s lawyers. Instead, they said the previous night’s confrontation -- in which they kicked and pounded Zhu’s door for two hours demanding that he open it -- was all a misunderstanding. They merely wanted to ask him questions as a witness.
The police spent hours questioning Zhu and refused to let him leave. It wasn’t until late into the seven-hour interrogation at the station that the motives of the police from Chongqing became clear, Zhu’s lawyer said.
In the end, the police demanded that Zhu hand over five additional sex videos that he had not yet released and which he said would expose several new officials.
Zhu said the police told him, “As a witness you have to turn in all video proof, otherwise you will be charged as hiding evidence and may be sentenced to three or seven years in prison.”
He said investigators also grilled him about the informant who gave him the sex videos of the officials and had brought a tech support person with them, which he interpreted to mean they were going to use the videos to track down his source.
Zhu and his lawyers said they refused to turn over the videos on the grounds that Zhu is a journalist and has an obligation to protect the evidence and his source. The police disagreed. After much argument, Zhu was allowed by authorities to leave the police station Monday night, though the police’s demand for the videos is unresolved.
Zhu’s lawyer, Li, said he believed the policemen originally intended to detain Zhu when they tried to get into his house Sunday night but were forced to change their plan once Zhu’s online posts for help and calls to Chinese and foreign media drew widespread attention.
Zhu’s case may prove to be an example of how Chinese whistleblowers can potentially generate enough public interest to protect themselves against reprisals. When police were pounding on his door, Zhu posted an online cry for help that was forwarded more than 19,500 times within an hour by users on China’s twitter-like microblogs.
Before leaving his home for the police station on Monday, Zhu posted a picture online of a signed legal document. The document named several people he was officially authorizing as his lawyers and representatives and said that any confession or change of lawyers after he is imprisoned would likely be made under duress. Mindful of several recent high-profile cases in which detainees have been cut off entirely from the outside world and with their lawyers switched out for government-friendly ones, Zhu said in the document that the lawyers he named are the only ones he wants, “even if I later write a letter in blood asking for a change of lawyers.”
When police questioned him, Zhu recalled, he repeatedly quoted recent statements by China’s new top leader Xi Jinping, saying his work contributed to the anticorruption campaign announced by Xi.