Is intra-Party interrogation a shield or a trap?

By Liu Linlin Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-19 19:13:01


A criminal suspect is held police custody in Fengcheng, Jiangxi Province on March 11. The secretive places to interrogate Party officials under shuanggui investigation are said to be much
A criminal suspect is held police custody in Fengcheng, Jiangxi Province on March 11. The secretive places to interrogate Party officials under shuanggui investigation are said to be much "softer," but there have still been recent reports about physical abuse or even deaths. Photo: CFP

The two-floor grey building near Shanghai University in Baoshan district looks like any other downtown office block. But the armed police around it, and the locked doors, show its real role as one of the most secretive places in the municipality, where Party officials accused of corruption or discipline violations are kept away from the outside world for months and interrogated by Party disciplinary officials.

Lin Zhe, an expert on anti-corruption at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, was invited early this year to pay a simple tour to the base for shuanggui, literally, "double-designation," referring to a procedure in which officials are obliged to attend at a designated time and a designated place to "confess" to wrongdoings for which the disciplinary body believes there is already substantial evidence.

The general impression she got from the visit was that the interrogation is "soft" rather than tough.

"The tables and chairs used in the interrogation rooms have no sharp corners. Walls are cushioned to make sure the room is soundproof and prevent officials under interrogation from hitting their heads against the wall," Lin said.

The rooms in the building resemble prisoners' cells, with only one bed and cameras monitoring the room 24 hours a day.

These shuanggui bases are mostly situated in remote areas. For instance, the one in Beijing is at the foot of the Great Wall. The remoteness adds to the secrecy of the whole process, as does the fact that the public is unable to get hold of the details of an interrogation even after officials under interrogation are confirmed to have broken the law.

Although Party authorities usually will transfer officials to judicial bodies for legal proceedings if the officials are eventually found to have broken the law, the secrecy of the shuanggui process has received criticism as it is not part of the legal system and some suspect it could be used as a shield for corrupt officials.

Two recent cases of local officials who "mysteriously" died after being held in custody in shuanggui bases in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province and Sanmenxia of Henan Province make people wonder exactly what goes on behind closed doors.

Interrogation abuses

 Yu Zusheng still remembered how excited he was to see his son, Yu Qiyi, back from Beijing on March 1, and how shocked he was to see his son's bruised body in the morgue 38 days later. Yu Qiyi died after interrogation under shuanggui in Wenzhou.

"I called officials from the city's commission of discipline inspection to check out the cause of death of my son, but they gave no response," Yu told the Global Times.

The inspection committee held Yu, who was transferred to Beijing temporarily for a year, on suspicion that he broke the law while approving a local land project in Wenzhou. But his father insisted that Yu was innocent and didn't take bribes from anyone.

The medical record said the 42-year-old Party member and chief engineer for a State-owned enterprise in Wenzhou had water in his lungs and was unconscious when he was sent to hospital. Yu's body was covered with bruises, indicating torture. 

"Some say he committed suicide. Some say he fell to the ground when taking a shower, and some even talk about a heart attack. But we demanded a forensic reexamination conducted by doctors outside the province and that the provincial prosecutors investigate the case," Yu Zusheng told the Global Times.

After Yu's case was widely spread on Sina Weibo, along with pictures of his dead body, a similar case happened in Sanmenxia, Henan Province in April. They both posted their doubts over officials' deaths online and attracted wide attention.

Jia Jiuxiang, deputy chief of the Sanmenxia Intermediate People's Court, was placed under shuanggui on April 12. His family members received a call in the early morning 11 days later informing them that Jia had suffered a heart attack and was under treatment in hospital.

His family saw his bruised body and scars on his wrists and ankles, making it appear as though he had been chained. They demanded a full and transparent investigation into his death and his son, Jia Tianran, who also works for the government, posted their request online.

Wenzhou city authorities have announced an investigation into Yu's case and held three officials in the city's discipline inspection committee and one police officer responsible for his death.

When the Global Times reached the official in charge of the Wenzhou case investigation on the phone, he quickly hung up.

Both Yu and Jia's family hired lawyers to help them with the case. But after Jia Tianran posted his request online, he and his family were approached by local authorities in Sanmenxia.

Jia Tianran posted on his Weibo account on April 28 that he had refused to hire lawyers anymore because he couldn't stand to see the whole family suffer any loss now.

He didn't return text message or private messages online sent by the Global Times by press time. He chose to be silent in front of questions and some criticized him for being a coward.

Lin said the two cases violated the regulations of shuanggui because officials taken to be investigated have to go through a health check before interrogation to make sure the process is safe.

Murderers or scapegoats?

After four suspects were held responsible for Yu's death in Wenzhou, the public was relieved to see the so-called mysterious death was declared to be the result of illegal torture, although the similar case in Henan gradually quieted down due to the lack of family members' rallying for help.

However, the case flared up again after parents and friends of one of the officials spoke out online to demand justice for their son, claiming he was innocent and a scapegoat for the discipline inspection committee.

"We were approached by local authorities trying to persuade us to use lawyers they hired for our son and give up clearing his name. They also told us the Party will reduce the punishment for our son if we listened to them but if not, the consequences will be serious," the parents, who are reluctant to release their details, told the Global Times through a private message on Weibo.

This new turbulence in the Wenzhou case heated up criticism of the local authorities again for allegedly being irresponsible and reluctant to find the real people responsible for the death.

"Shuanggui is a way to find out problems within the Party, not to execute officials under inspection. The chiefs of the inspection office are responsible for cases in Wenzhou and Sanmenxia. They should resign themselves. And those involved in the killing should be prosecuted under the law," Lin said.

"We are not satisfied with the current result because it is too late. And we would like to see a thorough inspection into the city Party committee itself to avoid tragedies like this happening again," Yu Zusheng said.

According to the central committee of discipline inspection's opinion on case processing of related departments, the rights of people being investigated should be properly protected. They should be questioned respectfully and calmly, and there should be no physical abuse or any form of torture.

Above the law?

"Officials have a certain kind of protection before they are brought to shuanggui as they may use their power and resources to avoid being punished. But once they are under shuanggui, their rights are hardly protected," Si Weijiang, Shanghai-based legal aid lawyer involved in both cases, told the Global Times.

Si and his firm have represented and discussed cases of physical abuse of officials in shuanggui but say it is rare that officials die under interrogation.

Shuanggui was first introduced by the State Council in 1990 and gradually outlined the working principles of discipline inspection authorities facing the critical situation of corruption. Public security departments can detain suspects for no more than 24 hours, giving corrupt officials a chance to destroy evidence or suborn witnesses. Shuanggui was meant to close this loophole.

Shuanggui is often imposed suddenly. It's not uncommon, according to media reports, for officials to be hosting a meeting in the morning and seized for shuanggui in the afternoon.

Lin considers the measure vital in anti-corruption campaigns because it can take some of the workload off prosecutors and is welcomed by the public keen to see corrupt officials under the microscope.

However, Si believes the practice to be against the law and that it should be abolished to protect the rights of officials and basic human rights as a whole.

"Prosecutors can fully take over the work of discipline inspection authorities and their work will be done under the law. The case in Sanmenxia clearly flouts the law because a court official was killed and prosecuted not by the law, but under 'disciplinary measures'," Si said.

"If the Party can't manage itself under the law, how can we expect it to rule the country under the law?" Si said.

The number of Party members in China exceeded 80 million by 2011. Chinese President Xi Jinping, also head of the Party, pointed out after the 18th Party congress in November last year that the Party should be governed by the law.

"There are clear signs coming from the Party central that the law should be respected within the Party, and with the number of Party members increasing, it is time to say that Party members should also have their human rights protected," Si said.

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