Xi Jinping’s campaign to eradicate corruption at all levels of the Party has now been in effect for four years. Amid the ongoing campaign, the shuanggui—China’s extra-legal system of secret detention and interrogation for officials accused of graft—has been heavily utilized. Human Rights Watch today released a 102-page report detailing the human rights abuses of the Party interrogation mechanism, which offers a detailed list of policy recommendations to several Chinese government and Party organizations. The recommendations, which first and foremost call for the abolition of the shuanggui, are based on what HRW sees as an implicit contradiction between the system and Xi Jinping’s stated goals to combat corruption:
Corruption, by definition, involves acting without regard for the rule of law. Chinese government efforts to combat corruption are unlikely to succeed so long as the rule of law is flouted throughout China’s justice system. Undoing pervasive corruption will require freeing the judicial system from Communist Party control, ending impunity for senior officials, and implementing genuine legal reforms. [Source]
Human Rights Watch’s press release summarizes the report’s findings:
“President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system.”
The report is based on 21 Human Rights Watch interviews with four former shuanggui detainees, as well as family members of detainees; 35 detailed accounts from detainees culled from over 200 Chinese media reports; and an analysis of 38 court verdicts from across the country. While there have been commentaries and analyses on the shuanggui system, the Human Rights Watch report is the first to contain firsthand accounts from detainees, as well as drawing on a wide variety of secondary, official sources.
[…] While President Xi has characterized the fight against corruption as a “matter of life and death” for the Communist Party, the same is true for shuanggui detainees: there have been at least 11 deaths in shuanggui custody reported by the media since 2010. In most cases, authorities claimed these were suicides, but family members often suspected mistreatment, and the lack of comprehensive, impartial investigations into these deaths deepens these suspicions. While former detainees reported that the harsh conditions in shuanggui prompted suicidal thoughts, they also said the constant surveillance and the room’s modifications, designed to prevent suicide attempts, made it difficult to put such thoughts into action.
[…] “In shuanggui corruption cases, the courts function as rubber stamps, lending credibility to an utterly illegal Communist Party process,” Richardson said. “Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.” […] [Source]
Huma Rights Watch also shared one story, the account of the anonymous wife of a county official still in detention after being tortured in shuanggui, as a video interview:
Coverage from The New York Times’ Chris Buckley praises the report for going further than earlier critiques of the shuanggui, successfully revealing “a symbiosis between that system and the state judiciary that makes it harder for suspects to challenge accusations or to retract confessions that they say were made under duress.” However, Buckley warns, the report is unlikely to inspire much change in Beijing, amid tightening information controls and as Xi’s Party corruption purge enjoys widespread public support:
[…S]uch criticisms are unlikely to ruffle the Chinese government.
Mr. Xi has made fighting corruption a centerpiece of his administration, and televised shows of officials confessing to taking bribes have been popular. The state-run news media rarely airs criticisms of the detention system. Chinese officials have maintained that the anticorruption investigations are carried out humanely in safe sites and that torture and other abuses have been curtailed by stricter rules and oversight. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which oversees the local discipline offices, did not answer faxed questions about the report.
“There’s been tightening censorship such that it is even harder than before for the victims of shuanggui and their families to tell the public about abuses they suffered,” Maya Wang, a researcher in Hong Kong for Human Rights Watch, said by email. But, she added, “China has a serious corruption problem, and the public supports a tough anticorruption campaign, particularly against government officials.” [Source]
As the HRW report was being released, state media quoted Wang Qishan, the head of China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, calling for all corruption investigations to be videotaped. Bloomberg reports:
Wang’s comments came at a time when the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and its local branches are under increased scrutiny, as their power to interrogate and detain is not guaranteed or regulated by law.
“Power without containment is dangerous,” Wang said during a trip to Jiangsu province that ended on Tuesday, CCTV reported. He said anti-graft authorities should videotape all interrogations, as well as clarify the rules on handling seized property.
The report on Wang came as a global rights group called on the mainland to stop holding party members without charge, releasing a report criticising the system on the unofficial four-year anniversary of the graft crackdown by President Xi Jinping. [Source]
In a recent issue of Party theory journal Seeking Truth (求是), Wang Qishan castigated his fellow Party members for lax discipline and weak ideological commitment, while simultaneously warning them not to move too far to the ideological left.