|Yang Dacai, former head of the Shaanxi provincial work safety administration, stands bribery trial at Xi'an City Intermediate People's Court, Aug 30, Northwest China’s Shaanxi province. [Photo/Xinhua]|
The trial of the Chinese official who left the nation aghast when he was filmed beaming broadly at the scene of a fatal road accident throws the power of anticorruption netizens into sharp focus.
Yang Dacai, former head of Shaanxi work safety administration, was tried in Xi'an Intermediate People's Court on Friday on charges of bribery and of holding property which he cannot account for.
Yang admitted taking 250,000 yuan (40,518 U.S. dollars) in bribes to help a technology appraisal company upgrade its security assessment credentials.
He also confessed to holding property worth over 5.04 million yuan without being able to account force its source.
Yang is just the latest government official to be felled by online whistleblowers. The power of Chinese netizens as an anticorruption force has never been more apparent.
Yang's precipitous plunge from grace began when images of him grinning merrily at the scene of a traffic accident that left 36 people dead appeared online in August of last year. His expression was seen as inappropriate and unsympathetic.
But that was just the beginning of the end
Photographs soon surfaced of Yang wearing luxury wristwatches, earning him the nickname "Brother Watch." Although Yang claimed he purchased the watches with his own salary, netizens argued the public servant could not possible have afforded such expensive items.
The Microbloggers' online antigraft crusade soon led an official inquiry.
After an initial investigation, in September 2012 Yang was dismissed from his post as a member of the Shaanxi Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (CPC). He was also thrown out as head and CPC chief of the provincial work safety administration.
He was expelled from the CPC and his case transferred to judicial authorities in February. Shaanxi disciplinary authorities believed him guilty of serious crimes and disciplinary violations during his tenure.
The Sina Weibo (a Chinese answer to Twitter) user behind the name "Huazongdiulejingubang" ("the Monkey King's magic wand") who drew attention to Yang's splendid timepieces, said that while Yang was sacked soon after his online exposure, the public was disappointed at the long wait for him to come to trial and many even suspected that there won't be any further punishment.
"The trial, which came a year later after the exposure, is the government's positive response to online supervision forces and therefore boosted netizens' confidence in online antigraft efforts," said the microblogger.
Many officials, including Lei Zhengfu, former Party chief of Beibei district in Chongqing and Liu Tienan, former deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), have both been punished following online denunciation.
Yu Guoming, deputy dean of journalism at Renmin University of China, said the positive response and timely punishment showed the authorities' commitment to antigraft campaigning and boosted netizens' enthusiasm to root out corruption clues.
More and more people are now reporting officials' wrongdoings under their real names.
Liu Tienan was sacked and placed under investigation after a magazine editor using his real name accused the disgraced official on Sina Weibo, in front of more than 500 million users.
Although online drives against corruption are attracting more attention, they also have limits.
Shu Hongshui, a professor at the Northwest University of Politics and Law, believes canvassing public opinion can provide enough clues and then exert sufficient pressure, but the punishment of corrupt official needs the rule of laws and discipline and judicial authorities.
"Yang's removal is an anomaly. Rooting out corruption in essence needs more anticorruption systems," said "Huazongdiulejingubang".