Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have suspended a local ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) township secretary after audio clips of her apparently threatening a family of petitioners went viral.
"Recently, Wang Li, party secretary of Yunshan township, Pingdu city, has been carrying out mass ideological work with crude methods, inappropriate language and a rough way of working, which has had a negative [public] impact," the propaganda department of Shandong's Pingdu city government said via its official account on Weibo.
"The Pingdu municipal party committee is taking this very seriously. Wang Li was suspended on Dec. 26 and ordered to apologize to the parties concerned," the post said. "The Pingdu municipal party committee has set up a taskforce to investigate and deal with the incident."
In the clips, Wang is reportedly heard telling her nephew, who was charged with carrying out "ideological work" with a family who had lodged a petition against the local government, to warn the family not to leave their home "if they want to stay alive."
She also makes a threatening reference to the family's grandchildren, "including one on the way."
Wang goes on to warn that she has "a hundred different ways I could make the son a criminal; I just don't want to use them for the time being."
RFA was unable to confirm the authenticity of the audio clip independently, but multiple Chinese media organizations have reported that they are a recording of Wang speaking to her nephew.
Repeated calls to the Yunshan township government offices rang unanswered late on Monday.
The details of the petitioning family's complaint against the authorities have yet to emerge, although Shanghai's official news site Dongfang.com reported that the family is surnamed Xie, and has yet to receive an apology from anyone.
Petitioners--many of whom have been thrown out of their homes or suffered abuse at the hands of corrupt officials--are frequently targeted by local officials, who subject them to illegal detention, beatings, and harassment, as well as incarceration in "legal study classes" and "ideological work" in their own homes, with the aim of making them drop their complaints.
Public records show Wang Li to be a former propaganda official who is also a leader of the local CCP Youth League.
"This is the behavior we might expect from an evil dictator or of a criminal organization," independent journalist Gao Yu said. "Local governments have basically become local mafias."
"That's basically intimidation, and not the sort of speech we should hear from a public servant."
She said it was inaccurate to think of Wang Li as a "rotten apple," because such behavior is extremely common among local officials.
The Pingdu propaganda department's post garnered a number of disgusted and critical comments.
"Is this really just a matter of crude methods, inappropriate language and a rough way of working, or is it an intentional abuse of power aimed at framing [the petitioner]?" user @Lawyer_Li_Zhiyong wrote.
User @Lawyer_Zhang's_public_voice wasn't optimistic about the outcome. "At the very worst, [Wang Li] will receive a severe warning and punishment from the party, maybe being transferred, but continuing in an official post."
"Unbelievable recording! Really exposes the truth about these officials!" wrote @Lianhuashan_Feelings_2.
User @Peng_Yousheng_D took issue with the mention of the grandchildren. "What kind of talk is that? They could have committed the crime of intimidation."
"You should all resign en masse, and preserve a shred of dignity," @Take_three-quarters_in_one_bite commented, while @Naked nickname quipped: "Wow, so this is what they mean by crude methods. I really learned something!"
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Jia Ao.