Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon actress Zhang Ziyi (章子怡) has reached an undisclosed settlement with a US-based dissident news Web site that she sued for libel after it published reports that she was paid to have sex with Chinese government officials.
Boxun News retracted its “negative and untrue” reports that began in May last year in an apology displayed on its English-language site yesterday.
“These false reports about Zhang Ziyi should never have been published. As a result, Boxun News now renders its unreserved apology to Zhang Ziyi, has removed the entire series of articles about Zhang Ziyi from the Boxun News website, and issues this formal retraction,” said Boxun, whose reports regularly allege human rights violations and political scandals.
The Web site is blocked in China.
Zhang brought the lawsuit in a Los Angeles court against China Free Press Inc — a North Carolina non-profit corporation devoted to promoting free speech and democracy in China — and Weican Null Meng (孟維參), a US citizen and the founder of China Free Press.
Zhang claimed damage to her reputation and business interests, according to court documents.
Zhang complained that Boxun News had repeatedly published untrue reports that she was a prostitute who earned more than US$100 million by having sexual relations with Chinese government officials and others, according to court documents. Those articles were then republished by other media outlets around the world.
Zhang also disputed Boxun’s allegation that she was working on behalf of the Chinese government to damage the Web site’s reputation.
Boxun’s reports caused a stir in China because one of the officials they alleged she slept with was Bo Xilai (薄熙來), a former prominent politician imprisoned for corruption and abuse of power.
The 34-year-old actress said Boxun had never contacted her before publication to confirm its report or obtain comment. Court documents said she had suffered approximately US$250,000 in specific damages, in addition to general damages for injury to her reputation, and that she also sought punitive damages.
The defendants initially argued their reports were protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution that covers free speech.
Meng had said the case was “an effort by the Chinese government [albeit by proxy] to attach and retaliate against an independent journalistic critic of its brutal and repressive practices, and to use the American judicial system as an instrument to identify dissidents for persecution,” according to a defendants’ summary.
It said Meng could not reveal his sources as it would expose them to arrest, imprisonment and even torture in China.
However, in its apology, Boxun said that its articles were based on information provided by anonymous sources “who cannot support the information reported.”