A county government website in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region pixelated the online portraits of its leaders after several of them became targets of blackmailers who made crude, composite pictures of them engaged in sex acts.
The obscured portraits of nine of 11 leaders of the Xingan county Bureau of Land and Resources had been online since September but were replaced this week with clearer pictures of the men after the incident made headlines.
Tang Rongjun, director of the bureau's discipline department told the Global Times that the land and resources bureau obscured the portraits to protect the officials.
"Since last year three top leaders from our bureau have received four blackmail letters, each containing fake sex photos," said Tang.
"The photos were terribly photoshopped. The naked bodies of people in the photos were blurred, yet their faces were very clear and are obviously the same photos that are on our website," said Tang, adding that one of the blackmail letters was even sent to the wrong official.
The blackmailers claimed they were private detectives who had acquired the "sex photos" after they were hired to conduct a corruption investigation of the official. The letters offered the officials a deal: pay 200,000 yuan ($32,100) for their silence or see the photos published.
Tang said he has reported the blackmail attempts to the government and he has confidence in all his colleagues who were so crudely threatened. "It's such a hassle even when you know the pictures are fake." Tang never imagined that blurring the online portraits of the county officials would become national news.
"Our colleagues are all innocent and we have total confidence in them, we just wanted to make sure their photos couldn't be abused by blackmailers," said Tang.
It is not the first time Chinese officials have been targets of blackmailers using fake sex photos, which appear to be the criminals' favorite tools.
In November a deputy director from the Beijing Administration of Work Safety reported to the media that he had been a target of blackmailers who had threatened to publish faked sex pictures unless he paid 200,000 yuan. Six top officers in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province reported to police that they were also threatened with the same unsophisticated blackmail scheme in November, reported the Changsha-based Xiaoxiang Morning Herald said.
The Global Times contacted a Beijing-based private detective company, and was informed it could photoshop photos for clients.