The mastermind behind China’s Great Firewall and the world’s most aggressive online censorship and surveillance regime in the world looks set for a lengthy spell in prison after pleading guilty to accepting bribes in China.
Lu Wei, who became known as the ‘father’ of the Great Firewall, was the head of the Cyberspace Administration of China until 2016. During his time in office, he oversaw a major crackdown on online freedoms across China.
He is also a former Vice-Mayor of Beijing, an ex-journalist at the CCP-run Xinhua News Agency and deputy head of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China (CCP).
In 2014, he accompanied CCP leader Xi Jinping on a visit to tech giants in Silicon Valley and the following year, was listed as one of Time magazines 100 most influential people in the world.
The downfall of Lu Wei
But his seemingly inexorable rise to the summit of the CCP came to a juddering halt in 2016 when he stepped down from his Cyberspace Administration role having seemingly lost an internal power struggle.
In 2017, the CCP announced that he was being investigated for suspected disciplinary violations. Chillingly, Lu Wei has not been seen publicly since until his appearance in court at the end of last week.
According to a post from the Ningbo Intermediate People´s Court’s official Weibo account, Lu was charged with accepting bribes from 2002 until late 2017. The total amount he was alleged to have accepted was 32 million yuan ($4.6 million).
CCP prosecutors accused Lu of using his influence and position throughout his career to offer benefits and help to others in exchange for financial rewards.
At the end of his trial, it is reported that Lu pleaded guilty to all the charges and “repented in court”.
The latest victim of CCPs corruption purges
As with all trials in China, it is hard to ascertain whether he is actually guilty or not. Xi Jinping has made ridding China of its inherent corruption a major public enquiry and Lu is far from the first public figure to fall victim to the purges. He is the biggest name from the Cyberspace Administration to date, but by no means the only one.
This supposed crackdown on corruption means that when someone is investigated, a conviction or public confession almost inevitably follows as this is what is deemed in the best interests of the CCP.
But at the same time, corruption is, and remains, almost ubiquitous across China and it would be remarkable if Lu had managed to rise to the level he did without being involved in corrupt practices of one kind or another.
Unless he has cut a deal, Lu can now look forward to a lengthy period in a Chinese prison for his crimes, as the latest public victim of the CCP’s corruption crackdown.
More than a million CCP official are thought to have been punished for corrupt practices over the past six years, yet the crackdown has still barely scratched the surface.
It was reported in the South China Morning Post that many of Lu’s former colleagues and associates have been warned by the authorities and are attending compulsory “education sessions” to discuss his case.
China systematic online crackdown
Since he resigned as Director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, he has been replaced by Xu Lin and then, more recently, Zhuang Rongwen. Both men are close aides to CCP leader Xi Jinping and have been instrumental in the recent stepping up of online controls across the country.
This has included attempts to ban the use of VPNs, which has so far proved to be unsuccessful. It has, however, caused problems for international businesses operating in China, which has led to the US raising the ban with the World Trade Organisation.
Despite the best efforts of the CCP, for those trying to get around their online censorship and surveillance regime, a VPN still remains the best option.
There are some VPNs which no longer work in China, so it is important to do your research if you are planning to use one there.
The best place to start is our article on the Best VPN for China 2018 which lists our pick of the top 5 VPNs which are still working behind the Great Firewall.
Alternatively, you could just plump for our number one recommended VPN for China, VPN.ac.