Ren Jianyu sits at a restaurant after being freed from a labor camp on Nov. 19, 2012. A Chinese court rejected a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit filed by Ren against Chongqing authorities for sentencing him to a labor camp after he criticised the government, his lawyer said. (Reuters)

China’s newly installed Communist leaders face the immediate and vexing question of what to do about complaints from thousands of people who say they were unfairly jailed in Chongqing during Bo Xilai’s aggressive four-year crackdown on crime when he was party chief there.

But Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping — who in his first days at the helm has pledged to tackle corruption and the lack of discipline in the ranks — has just been confronted with a new Chongqing headache: A local party official was fired last week after he appeared in a five-year-old sex video that was recently posted online, and a citizen journalist says he has more juicy tapes exposing the high jinks of other Chongqing cadres cavorting with their mistresses.

The official dismissed last week, Lei Zhengfu, 54, the party chief of Chongqing’s Beibei district, is seen on the short video having sex with his 18-year-old mistress. A property developer who wanted to blackmail Lei into granting him lucrative building contracts, it turns out, hired the young woman, according to reports in the state-run Xinhua News Agency. The developer and the woman reportedly were briefly detained after Lei complained to Bo, all well before Bo’s own troubles began.

The episode is the latest example of how average Chinese citizens are increasingly using the Internet — particularly the Twitter-like microblogging sites called weibo — to expose corruption, and the real challenge they are posing to China’s rulers, who must contend with a restive population that has a new tool for organizing and expressing its outrage.

The sex tape was posted by a self-described “independent investigative journalist” named Zhu Ruifeng, founder of an Internet whistleblowing group called People’s Supervision Network.

Zhu said in a brief telephone interview that he has five additional tapes showing senior-level Chongqing officials, some of whom are still in their jobs, engaging in sex with mistresses. He said his source for the videos is a high-level Chongqing police officer.

Zhu said he waited until Nov. 20 to make the first tape public because that was the day Sun Zhengcai, 49, a former culture minister and party boss of Jilin province, began work as Chongqing’s new party chief, the third person to hold the job since March.

Sun replaced Zhang Dejiang, who briefly took over the Chongqing post when Bo was fired but was elevated to the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee at the 18th party congress this month.

“I am actually giving a gift to Sun Zhengcai,” Zhu said. “This is a big gift. A new broom sweeps clean. Let’s put out the first fire.”

Seeking justice

The scandal comes just as the excesses of the Bo era in Chongqing are coming before the courts, with victims seeking to have their convictions ruled unfair and overturned.

Bo, once a rising star considered a virtual certainty for a slot on the Politburo Standing Committee, is in prison awaiting trial on various charges, including helping his wife cover up a murder, accepting bribes and having “improper relations” with other women. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, is in prison with a suspended death sentence for the poisoning death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood. And Bo’s former police chief, Wang Lijun, who exposed the murder scandal, is serving a 15-year sentence for his involvement in the crime and his attempt to then defect to the United States.

In one of the most widely reported cases of alleged abuse during Bo’s Chongqing crackdown, a prominent Beijing lawyer, Li Zhuang, was jailed in December 2009 for 18 months after a gangster client he went to assist told the court that the lawyer had coached him to lie to get a lighter sentence. The case sparked widespread protests from China’s legal community, which argued that Li was framed and that even respected lawyers were unsafe with Bo in charge of the city.

But this month, the imprisoned gangster, Gong Gangmo, told lawyers in a jail-cell conversation that he had fabricated the accusations against Li, on instructions from the Chongqing police, according to Gong’s older brother. That statement was given to a Beijing court.

Li Zhuang on Thursday morning held a two and a half hour meeting about his case before a judge at Chongqing’s Intermediate Court — the first time Li was able to meet with Chongqing court officials since he was released, despite multiple attempts. After the meeting, the judge said he would decide later whether to accept Li’s appeal of his conviction, according to Li and to reports in the Xinhua news agency.

Gong Ganghua, the gangster’s brother, said his sibling told him that he was tortured, beaten and forced to make the statements implicating the lawyer. In an interview, Gong Ganghua said that other family members were forced under police threat to help frame the lawyer and that police held mock trial sessions to coach them in how to respond to specific questions. He said police also threatened to execute Gong Gangmo if the family did not play along.

“The whole world knows Li Zhuang was framed,” Gong Ganghua said. “If I refused to cooperate with them, they would have executed my younger brother.”

Li said that after more than a year of futility, he hoped to get his conviction overturned and his license to practice law restored. “My understanding is the court system is waiting for orders from the upper level,” he said. “Everything was on hold for a little while” because of the party congress, he added.

‘There’s no progress’

In another well-publicized case, Ren Jianyu, a college student and blogger, was sent to a “reeducation through labor” camp for two years in August 2011 for posting on his “Tencent” microblog comments critical of Bo’s crackdown on crime and his campaign to encourage Chongqing residents to sing Mao Zedong-era revolutionary, or “red,” songs.

Ren had posted and reposted scores of comments, including a statement that, under Bo, “Chongqing is now taking the lead on the road to the Cultural Revolution!” He also posted a picture of a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “I would rather die without freedom.”

Ren, 25, was released by Chongqing’s new authorities on Nov. 19, after 15 months in detention. He insists that he didn’t break any laws; he is fighting to get his good name back and to force Chongqing officials to admit that he was wrongly detained.

Ren said he had mostly reposted other people’s comments. “When I forwarded those, I thought every one of us has the right to speak and express our own views on current affairs. I just didn’t expect that freedom in Chongqing was so low,” he said.

During his detention, Ren said, he was forced to do exercises, perform manual labor and — until Bo was ousted in March — sing revolutionary songs day and night.

Ren’s first attempt to have his case overturned was rejected by the lower court in Chongqing. But his attorney, Pu Zhiqiang, said he plans to appeal. “Now the whole city here is still in the process of healing,” Pu said.

Other victims of Bo’s perceived injustices are simply waiting for the new leadership to settle in before they seek redress.

“Our case now is at the hand of the Chongqing People’s Court, and there’s no conclusion so far,” said the wife of a Chongqing policeman who was jailed as part of the crackdown on corruption.

“Of course, we expect the new party secretary will do something. We expected party secretary Zhang Dejiang would have done something, too,” she said. “But there’s no progress. Now we’re just very confused.”

Wang Juan in Shanghai contributed to this report.