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    Greater China
     Feb 7, 2008
Racy photos strip heart-throb's image
By Justin Mitchell

HUA HIN, Thailand - While mainland Chinese newspapers continue to cover the country's worst snowstorm in an estimated 50 years as the lunar new year dawns, Hong Kong's front pages have been smoking for seven straight days with a hotter subject - nude stars on the Internet.

The media frenzy began January 27 when revealing personal pictures of Gillian Chung, a member of the squeaky clean Cantopop duo Twins, and her former boyfriend, singer-actor Edison Chen, and others purported to be of actress Cecilia Cheung were posted on the Internet.

Other Hong Kong female celebs later reported to have been caught in risque situations with Chen (and solo) included

Cantopop queens Joey Yung and Bobo Chan. Since then eight people have been arrested and computers and hard disks containing hundreds of pictures seized - some obviously doctored, others likely as not - as Hong Kong police widen their investigation into the online distribution of the pictures.

Chen, after maintaining silence for a week and reportedly flying to Canada and/or Boston, released an English language video apology via his lawyer and the Hong Kong police. According to the Hong Kong uber-blog ESWN which has been keeping a running account of the story with translations from many of the Hong Kong newspapers, Sing Pao reported that the pictures were initially discovered several months ago when Chen sent his pink Apple Powerbook laptop to a computer shop for repairs.

The technician accidentally discovered photographs and videos of Chen and more than a dozen Hong Kong celebrities which he downloaded onto his own computer. Sing Pao newspaper reported the technician said he "only intended to keep the material for his own enjoyment". Later, however, he invited some friends over to his apartment to play mahjong and casually mentioned that he had some "good" stuff to show them.

When his friends saw the material, they were "astonished", the paper reported, and urged him to post them on the Internet. He was said to be reluctant because he knew Chen had his contact information, so finally a female friend agreed to do it. The computer shop was subsequently raided by police, who claimed they have seized "more than 1,000 explicit images", including of four women described as "public figures".

In his video statement, Chen, 27, called the postings "intentionally hurtful and malicious".

"I hereby use this opportunity to apologize to anyone who has been affected by this strange, strange ordeal. If you ever downloaded any of these images, please do not forward them to anyone ... If you are still in possession of these images, I urge you to please destroy them immediately," a contrite-looking Chen said. He added that he was "hurt, pained and perplexed" that a number of people's lives had been affected and said he was cooperating with police but could not comment further due to the possibility of legal action.

Several days earlier on his blog, Chen had posted a more emotional message: "to all the press that have misquoted me from today's newspaper i would like for u to respect the situation that everyone is in and report the truth to the fullest if u would like to say yesterday i have posted a msg CHALLENGING the people who are doing this to me then i have nothing to say but u are reporting the wrong news."

Responding to Hong Kong media questions, a police official said they were still trying to determine whether the pictures were real or fakes. He said if the pictures were found in servers overseas, they would call on international enforcement agencies to get involved and contact the relevant service providers. People who had only transferred the obscene picture files to friends had not violated the law, but those who transferred them to the public - for example via Internet web pages - were breaking the law, he said.

"The police are trying to prevent the spread of the pictures, but we are having some difficulties as the pictures have been spread around for some time," the police official said. The pictures, which have not yet been classified as obscene, will be forwarded to Hong Kong's Obscene Articles Tribunal for classification.

Bloggers and netizens have raised questions regarding the police force's handling of the scandal. Roland Soong, an American and Hong Kong citizen who maintains the ESWN blog, has had many questions, as well as some answers.

Regarding a (highly suspect) photo of Joey Yung purportedly baring her breasts that he posted on ESWN as part of his account, Soong asked: "Does my posting of this photograph cause harm to Joey Yung's reputation? Well, this website is registered and hosted in the United States, so the Hong Kong police will have to seek the help of the FBI/Interpol on this. Besides, why chase after me? After all, I got this photograph from another website which has a much bigger circulation than mine and therefore has wrought much more havoc. Would the Hong Kong police dare to do anything about that website? No, I didn't think so ..."

The link to the photo leads to a mainland Chinese official news site.

Justin Mitchell is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Sex scandal blocks Hong Kong's airwaves (Jul 17, '07)

Let's talk about sex in China (Jul 12, '07)


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