HONG KONG Two attorneys in Beijing have released a statement challenging a story in The New York Times that documents some $2.7 billion in assets held by relatives of Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister.
Carried on the front page of Sunday's editions of The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, the statement called the Times report "untrue" and said that members of Mr. Wen's family "did not carry out any illegal business activity."
"We will continue to make clarifications regarding untrue reports by The New York Times, and reserve the right to hold it legally responsible," according to the statement from the lawyers, who said they had been "entrusted by the family members of Wen Jiabao" to issue it.
The original story, published Friday, had not been mentioned in Chinese state-run media by Sunday afternoon, and government censors moved to quash the story on various social media platforms, including the highly popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo.
China Digital Times, which monitors and reports on the Chinese media, compiled a list of some of the terms that the government has blocked on Sina Weibo in relation to the Times's story on the Wen-family wealth.
A number of combinations of words are blocked, including the Wen surname and "assets," "wealth," "family" and "prime minister." The terms "Wen treasure," "Wen clan" and "Wen emperor" are blocked. The number 2.7 billion is blocked.
Mr. Wen's name is routinely screened on Sina Weibo, as are the names of other senior government and Communist Party leaders. Mr Wen's nicknames, "Grandpa Wen" and "Best Actor," also are verboten.
The name of his mother, Yang Zhiyun (???), is now blocked. The name of his wife, Zhang Beili (???), also is off-limits, along with her nicknames, "Diamond Queen" and "Lady Wen," and the name of her jewelry company. The name of the Wens' only son is blocked Wen Yunsong (???) plus the terms "Young Master Wen" and "Crown Prince Wen."
"The New York Times" (????) is banned for Sina Weibo users, along with "Twist Times" (????). China Digital Times notes that "twist" (?? ni?y?o), or "twisting waist dance," sounds similar to New York (?? Ni?yu?).
A Chinese government spokesman told reporters on Friday that the story "smears China and has ulterior motives."
The government moved quickly to block access to the English- and Chinese-language Web sites of The Times. The government spokesman said the firewalling was done "in accordance with laws and rules."
Rachel Lu, a co-founder and editor at the Web site Tea Leaf Nation, writing on Foreign Policy magazine's Web site, cited this comment on Sina Weibo:
"In this day and age, no official is clean and I can accept that, but they shouldn't treat us like we are stupid. They fill up on abalone and lobsters in a five-star hotel, and then go to crowded street markets to buy cheap vegetables just to put on a show! I can't take that."
My colleague Keith Bradsher, in reporting Sunday about the lawyers' statement and the Morning Post story, cites an e-mail statement from Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for The Times: "We are standing by our story, which we are incredibly proud of and which is an example of the quality investigative journalism The Times is known for."
The original Times story, reported by David Barboza, did not allege any illegal business activity. It also said Mr. Wen appeared not to have accumulated assets himself.
"Wen Jiabao has never played any role in the business activities of his family members, still less has he allowed his family members' business activities to have any influence on his formulation and execution of policies," said the lawyers' statement, issued by Bai Tao, a partner with the Jun He Law Offices in Beijing, and Wang Weidong, managing partner at the Grandall law firm, also in the capital.
Ms. Bai has law degrees from Beijing University and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where her son is an undergraduate.
Mr. Wang's corporate biography says he has worked with General Electric, General Motors, I.B.M., Siemens, Coca-Cola, the Export-Import Bank of Japan and Electricité de France. He has law degrees from the People's Public Security University and the University of Minnesota.