Photographer: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

China Urged to Stop ‘Disappearing’ Officials in Graft Crackdown

  • Rights group’s report seeks end to extrajudical detentions
  • Tuesday marks unofficial anniversary of four-year-old campaign

A global rights advocacy group is calling on China to stop detaining Communist Party members indefinitely without charge, releasing a report criticizing the system on the unofficial anniversary of Xi Jinping’s four-year-old corruption crackdown.

QuickTake China’s Pain Points

The practice, known as shuanggui, which the Communist Party uses to secure confessions from corruption suspects, lacks legal basis and perpetuates rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday in Hong Kong. Such extrajudicial detentions are a key feature of Xi’s anti-graft campaign, which began on Dec. 6, 2012, with the investigation of Li Chuncheng, then a deputy party chief in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

More than 1 million officials have since been punished in the fight against corruption, which Xi has described as the greatest threat to the party’s grip on power and vowed to continue. The reliance on extrajudicial “disappearances” by Xi and his party disciplinary chief, Wang Qishan, undercut the government’s pledge to strengthen the rule of law and make the country’s courts more fair, Human Rights Watch said. 

“Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan have staked their political career on an anti-corruption campaign that’s fundamentally based on rights violations, and they are enormously empowered in a negative way," said Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch. “If Xi Jinping has such confidence in China’s legal system, why are these shuanggui even necessary?”

The 102-page Human Rights Watch report, “‘Special Measures’: Detention and Torture in Chinese Communist Party’s Shuanggui System,” details the cases of four former detainees. The findings are based on court records, media reports and 21 interviews with the detainees and their family between November 2015 and last June.

The detainees report being beaten, forced into stress positions, deprived of sleep and denied food and water. After “confessing,” the vast majority of detainees suspected of criminal offenses transferred to prosecutors, convicted and sentenced, often to years in prison. State media have reported at least 11 deaths in such detention since 2010.

The term shuanggui, or literally “double designation,” refers to the requirement that those targeted to report to authorities at a “designated location, at a designated time.” The report said the system developed amid concerns that corruption contributed to the collapse of Soviet and Eastern European regimes and that “special measures” were needed. 

Reforms Discussed

Some Chinese legal scholars argue that party rules are among the “plurality of legal orders” and that the party’s 89 million members have sworn allegiance to uphold them. While the country’s top prosecutorial body convened a meeting with legal experts in 2014 to discuss shuanggui reforms, including transferring the cases of officials directly to the prosecutors, the government hasn’t taken action to limit or abolish the practice.

At least 120 officials at the vice-ministerial rank or above have been among those ensnared, including Zhou Yongkang, the country’s former security chief, and Ling Jihua, the former chief of staff to Xi’s predecessor. Bo Xilai, a former member of the party’s ruling Politburo, said in court that he confessed under “improper pressure,” before being sentenced to life in prison.

Richardson said independent courts, a free media and rule of law were needed for China’s anti-corruption campaign to succeed. “Eradicating corruption won’t be possible so long as the shuanggui system exists. The only solution is to demolish it, immediately,” she said.

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