Official’s Death Fuels Concern for Shuanggui Detainees

The reported drowning of a Wenzhou official held in the Party’s internal disciplinary system has brought renewed attention to the welfare of shuanggui detainees. Global Times’ Hu Qingyun reported last week:

A Party member and chief engineer for a State-owned enterprise in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, died in suspicious circumstances Tuesday while being held for investigation by the city’s commission for discipline inspection.

The People’s Procuratorate of Wenzhou said the man, Yu Qiyi, “suffered an accident” Monday night and died in hospital at 3:15 am on Tuesday. However, Yu’s family slammed claims his death was accidental, insisting photos circulated online [see Shanghaiist] show he had bruises and appeared to have been bitten.

[…] On Monday night, staff from Yu Qiyi’s company rang his family to inform them he had been hospitalized and his life hung in the balance. Family and friends rushed to the hospital, only to learn Yu junior had died and had bruising over much of his upper-body.

[…] The hospital listed the cause of Yu’s death as drowning, noting he was unconscious when admitted for treatment, his father said.

Another disputed shuanggui death occurred in September, when the family of a retired official from Hunan rejected official claims that he had committed suicide. Photos of his apparently bruised body led to speculation that he had been beaten and murdered: “Inspectors,” one netizen commented, “you guys are as fierce as Japanese bandits!”

The Dui Hua Foundation noted in 2011 that shuanggui—whose name refers to the “dual designation” of the time and place of an investigation—enjoys some popular support, fed by anger at official corruption and other abuses of power. “Sadly,” it added, “acceptance of shuanggui seems to have seeped into international human rights circles and resulted in a dearth of relevant research and advocacy.” But The Guardian’s Jonathan Kaiman reported that state media coverage of Yu’s death might signal positive, if limited, change:

Critics say shuanggui detainees, bereft of legal protection, are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. According to Flora Sapio, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong who has written a book on the subject, Xinhua’s sympathetic coverage could represent a high-level decision to begin addressing the rights of detainees while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged.

“What they’re trying to do is get people in the system to treat criminal suspects in a different way,” she said. “At the same time you, as the party state, want to be the only voice with the power to talk on matters of justice.”

The vast majority of shuanggui detainees stand no chance of rescuing their careers and many kill themselves in detention. Most cases are eventually transferred to the judiciary, where they usually end in death sentences or long imprisonments. Bo Xilai, the disgraced Chongqing party chief, spent 10 months under such detention before his case was sent to the courts in January. He has yet to be formally tried.