Authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan are holding a former senior ruling Chinese Communist Party official for allegedly raping more than 10 underage girls, official media reported.
Li Xingong, former deputy director of the general office for the Party committee of Henan's Yongcheng city, is accused of sexually assaulting more than 10 schoolgirls, according to a statement on the municipal government website.
"The local authorities have ordered swift and severe punishment on the suspect in accordance with relevant laws," China's official Xinhua news agency said.
The announcement, which was reported in the English-language Shanghai Daily and the City Express newspapers, comes after widespread anger on China's popular microblogging services over Li's case, which has become a focus for popular outrage over official abuses of power.
City Express said Li was apprehended on May 8 as he tried to meet another victim at the gates of a middle school in Yongcheng.
The ccvic.com news site said Li had used his power and money to lure young girls, the youngest of whom was just 11, and trick them into having sex with him.
Police had found information about the young girls, including their birth dates and contact details on Li's computer, along with "unrelated pornographic pictures," the report said.
Sexual intercourse with a girl under 14 is a criminal offense in China.
U.S.-based China commentator Liu Nianchun cited some reports as saying that local schools had been involved in providing young girls for Li to have sex with.
"He made a point of targeting schools for young girls like this, and he specified that they must be virgins and quite pretty," Liu said.
"After the school had found the girls, he would choose one he liked and take her to his motor home, drive it somewhere that no one knew about and rape her."
"Some of the young girls begged him [not to], but it was no use."
Liu said official media reports of "more than 10" victims had under-reported the actual number.
"Actually local sources have said that there were dozens and dozens of them," he said.
Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said Li had received numerous decorations for "good work" within the Chinese Communist Party.
"An important thing to remember is that Chinese Communist Party officials aren't bound by the law," he said. "They can do as they please ... regardless of what laws exist."
He said the lack of an independent judiciary has given rise to a "minority" of officials who were "utterly lawless."
"In a country with a one-party system, where the Party is above the law ... such people are capable of the most shocking and despicable acts."
Sun said a lack of freedom to report such abuses in China's tightly controlled media have added to the problem.
"If such evil deeds could be reported at any time by the media, by journalists, then that would have a deterrent effect of these officials," he said.
News reports about Li's case from the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend newspaper were retweeted nearly 50,000 times on Monday, garnering more than 15,000 comments.
A large number of comments called for Li's immediate execution, while others imagined further punishments.
"Cut his [penis] off and feed it to the dogs!" wrote user @tiantian2745029247. "After that, execute him 100 times. Utter dregs!!"
Not many netizens expressed surprise at the news, however. In 2009, Henan official Wu Tianxi was executed after being found guilty of charges that included raping 24 teenagers.
"In such a dark country as this, this doesn't even make the news," wrote user @gaoqiuchuanzhang on the microblogging service Sina Weibo.
Meanwhile, user @zhaozhiche addressed China's state-backed paid online commentators, known collectively as the "50 cent party."
"Now, 50 centers, don't go writing commentaries on behalf of the Communist Party: let the people speak!"
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.