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The Chinese Communist Party has long felt threatened by overseas websites and social media outlets, but the recent detention of a California physicist who says he was beaten by Chinese security agents seeking the password for his Twitter account suggests how far the government will go in its battle against a freewheeling Internet.

The man, Ge Xun, 53, a naturalized U.S. citizen who moved to the United States from China in 1986, said he was abducted from a street in Beijing this month and was roughly questioned by public security officers at a secret location. During 21 hours of interrogation, Ge said, the agents peppered him with questions about his blogging activity, his membership in an organization that promotes dialogue between Tibetans and Chinese and his role in maintaining a website that supports a blind lawyer living under house arrest in China’s rural northeast.

But Ge’s greatest sin, it appears, was his zealous embrace of Twitter, which has long been blocked in China along with Facebook, YouTube, and other websites that the government deems a threat to its hold on power. In the end, Ge and his captors came up with a compromise: He did not reveal his password but logged on to Twitter and allowed them to peek inside his account. “The truth is I have nothing to hide,” he said.

Although Ge was released and promptly deported on Feb. 2, the incident highlights the risks that foreign passport holders of Chinese origin face when ensnared by China’s nebulous and omnipotent public security apparatus.