BEIJING, (Reuters) – As Yu Qiyi’s interrogation entered its 39th day, officials from the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog debated how to get a confession out of the detained man, the chief engineer at a state-owned firm in eastern Wenzhou city.
One official noted he had forced Yu’s head under water the night before. A day later, Yu died after being dunked repeatedly in a bucket of ice-cold water.
Six officials were convicted last month of torturing Yu to death. Testimony given in the case, seen by Reuters, illustrates the brutality of a secretive detention system for party members and the drive to get confessions as President Xi Jinping presses on with an aggressive anti-corruption campaign.
Lawyers say the case – highly unusual because Yu’s interrogators were charged – also renews questions about the legality of the process given rampant abuses in the system. The party introduced the detention system, called “shuanggui”, in 1990 to weed out corrupt members as the temptation to take bribes sky-rocketed on the back of China’s nascent economic boom.
Detentions can last indefinitely, with family members often kept in the dark about the fate of their loved ones.
“If there are more corruption investigations, there is greater use of ‘shuanggui’,” said Nicholas Bequelin of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“Because of the political premium that is put on the anti-corruption campaign, I assume this will create the incentive for more abuses.” Prominent human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping called “shuanggui” unconstitutional.
“TERRIFIED OF WATER”
Yu, 42, was detained on March 1. It is not precisely clear why he was being investigated. His family’s lawyers believe it was possibly related to a land deal.
The court on Sept. 30 sentenced five officials from the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in Wenzhou to between four and 14 years in jail. A sixth official, from the local prosecutor’s office, was jailed for eight years.
It was a rare instance of legal punishment handed down over the abuse of a party official detained under “shuanggui”, lawyers for Yu’s family said. They said the case went to court because of a public outcry over Yu’s death as well as the family’s doggedness in seeking justice.
One of the convicted officials, Cheng Wenjie, said senior officials from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in Wenzhou gave the go-ahead for the water punishment.
“Yu Qiyi was terrified of water,” Cheng told investigators in testimony that detailed the debate on how to get Yu to confess.
“If we continue dunking him in water, we might be effective, so the leaders said continue,” according to a transcript of his remarks given to the court in the nearby city of Quzhou, where the trial was held.
His testimony and those of others were part of the defence statement given by Chi Susheng, a lawyer for Li Xiang, another of the six accused. Chi posted the testimonies online, where they have gotten little attention.
Wu Qian, Yu’s ex-wife, told Reuters she believed Yu was innocent of any graft accusations. Yu, she said, had “thought he was just assisting with the investigation into other people”.
She said Yu told her that commission officials had notified him in January 2012 he was being investigated. Wu added she had no contact with him while he was under detention.
The Wenzhou commission did not respond to a request for comment.
BO XILAI HELD FOR 17 MONTHS
Graft oils the wheels of government at almost every level in China, which ranked 80th out of 176 countries and territories on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, where a higher ranking means a cleaner public sector.
Nearly all senior government personnel as well as top executives at state-run firms are members of the Communist Party.
Like his predecessors, Xi Jinping has warned that corruption threatens the party’s very existence.
Spearheading his crackdown on graft is Wang Qishan, head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
Wang warned party investigators on Wednesday that their jobs were on the line if they failed to root out corruption, telling them to use “shock and awe” on their targets, in comments published on the commission’s website. He gave no details on tactics to get results.
Xi himself has vowed to catch high-flying “tigers” as well as low-ranked “flies”.