CCTV did not respond to faxed questions about the confessions. Police in the four cities where such confessions have been filmed either could not be reached or did not respond to media requests for comment.
In one of the first prominent cases, Chinese-American investor Charles Xue (薛蠻子) was detained by police on suspicion of engaging in prostitution. It has become clear that Xue has been targeted in a government effort to discredit liberal-minded microbloggers who tend to advocate values such as democracy and freedom.
Xue urged other popular microbloggers to draw a lesson from him and expressed his support for more governmental regulation of online discourse. However, he was first seen on CCTV confessing about his escapades with prostitutes, drawing public snickers.
“According to my recollection, there has been six to seven times when I had sex with more than two prostitutes at once. Most recently, a female named A-Jie brought two other prostitutes and I had sex with them at the same time,” he said as if reading off a script. “Altogether, I paid 3,000 yuan [US$500].”
Xue remains in detention, but there has been no official word on whether he has been charged since his last television appearance on Sept. 15.
Then it was the turn of environmentalist Dong Liangjie (董良杰), who in September said on CCTV that he posted false allegations online, including one about contraceptive drugs in tap water. He was detained on suspicion of provoking trouble at the time of the confession, but it is unclear if he has been charged since then.
Last month, Dong Rubin said on the national network that he had taken money to make his clients look good online. A voice-over said he had fabricated rumors and purchased fake accounts to help spread them.
In the video, Dong Rubin — with his head shaved and hands cuffed — was seen in a yellow vest issued by a detention center in the southwestern city of Kunming. He was then charged with providing false capital in business registration. His lawyer said he did not admit any crime.
Also last month, freelance journalist and popular microblogger Ge Qiwei (格祺偉) appeared on TV when he was charged with blackmailing.
“This is an ugly thing,” Ge said of his offense.
He appeared much as Dong Rubin had — hands cuffed, yellow vest — though in his case the vest was issued by a detention center in Hengyang City in the southern province of Hunan.
Chinese authorities have deployed a similar tactic in another public campaign this year against alleged bribes made by foreign pharmaceutical companies to boost sales. They aired footage of a police interrogation in which a drug company executive confessed to the wrongdoing.
“Such parading is clearly a violation of due process and it shows how the party propaganda is prevailing over those who seek to promote the rule of law,” political scientist Dali Yang (楊大利) of the University of Chicago said.