Chinese police have launched a nationwide online crackdown to delete pornographic pictures of several Hong Kong celebrities and pledged to close any Websites that published the raunchy photos.
The step is the latest in authorities' bid to control the spread of the photos, which show Hong Kong actor and singer Edison Chen and several female stars naked in bed and in sexual poses.
The scandal has created a media frenzy and heated discussions on BBS communities both in Hong Kong and on the mainland since late January.
Some Internet users shared the 800-plus pictures by e-mail or posting them on other Websites.
Police in Beijing warned that anyone found sending the pictures to friends, even for free, will be detained for a maximum of 15 days. Posting the photos online violates the Security Administration Punishment Law, the Legal Evening News reported yesterday.
Those who have sent more than 200 nude pictures via email, chat rooms and BBS will be investigated under criminal law, the police said.
The Beijing Internet News Information Review Council, initiated by the government-sponsored Beijing Association of Online Media, issued a statement on Monday rapped Baidu.com, the biggest Chinese search engine, for "behaving badly."
The association "severely criticizes Baidu's behavior" and demanded the company make a public apology for spreading the nude pictures.
In Hong Kong, up to 10 people were detained for spreading the photos.
And in the southern city of Shenzhen, police have apprehended 10 suspects for allegedly producing, selling and purchasing discs of the photos.
Three suspects were given five-day administrative detention, and two others were under criminal detention and still being quizzed by police.
Thirteen online portals on the mainland have issued a joint statement asking domestic Websites to boycott the nude photos. It urged Netizens and Website staff to be self-disciplined and halt the spread of the photos.
So far, more than 40 domestic Websites have rallied to support the joint statement.
Chen out of a job
Meanwhile, actor Edison Chen said he will fulfill existing commitments and then leave the Hong Kong entertainment industry indefinitely due to the nude photo scandal.
Pictures showing the 27-year-old, Canadian-born Chinese actor and singer posing in bed with numerous female celebrities - including singer Gillian Chung and actress Cecilia Cheung, Joey Yung and Bobo Chan -- recently hit the Internet, the Shanghai Daily reported Thursday.
"I'm sorry to those ladies and their families and most of all, I feel sorry for Hong Kong people," Chen said at a press conference. "These photos were very private and have not been shown to people and were never intended to be shown to anyone."
The Shanghai Daily said Chen explained he would honor some existing commitments, and then leave the entertainment industry "indefinitely."
He said he decided to do this "to give myself an opportunity to heal myself and to search my soul.
"I have failed as a role model. However I wish that this matter will teach everyone a lesson. I hope the scandal can be over as soon as possible and prevent more young people from further injuries," Chen said.