China's Crackdown On Corruption Opens Door To Abuse

China's Crackdown On Corruption Opens Door To Abuse

7:00pm Mar 09, 2014

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it a priority to eliminate corruption within the Chinese Communist Party.

"The [Communist Party] desperately wants the appearance of cracking down hard on corruption because they understand that rampant corruption is threatening the party's legitimacy," says Associated Press reporter Gillian Wong.

In a story published Sunday, Wong uncovers how that crackdown on corruption has led to another problem: abuse and torture of party officials.

"The way [the party] goes about investigating corruption tends to be so opaque — within the party, controlled entirely by the party — that it allows for these types of abuse to occur," she says.

The investigations are carried out under the government's secretive detention and disciplinary system called shuanggui.

Shuanggui is an "extra-legal form of detention, in that it operates entirely outside the scrutiny or oversight of police or courts," Wong explains.

According to her AP report, "Experts estimate at least several thousand people are secretly detained every year for weeks or months under an internal system that is separate from state justice."

Wong broke the story of a local official named Zhou Wangyen, who says he was tortured by the Communist Party. She first read his account on a Chinese lawyer's blog, and later convinced him to tell her what happened.

Zhou was a director of the land resources bureau, parceling out land for developers. In China, that position is a hotbed of corruption. Wong says it's very common for developers to bribe officials like Zhou — that's what first led authorities to him. But Zhou says he was innocent.

One morning in July 2012, he was rounded up by three men from the local party's discipline inspection commission.

"If he were arrested formally, that would have almost been a better fate for him," Wong says.

The investigators took him to a hotel where he was accused of accepting 100,000 yuan ($16,000) in bribes. They wanted him to admit it.

"They made him stand, and they surrounded him with men on four sides and just kept pushing him back and forth between them, letting him rest for only an hour a night," Wong says. "And this went on for a whole week."

Wong reports that this was just the beginning. Zhou was moved to another hotel and deprived of sleep. Eventually he was moved to the party's detention center. That's where he encountered the worst abuse.

"He found himself beaten. He was only allowed one bowl of rice a day," Wong says. "They pressed his face into water in the sink until he thought he was drowning."

The torment lasted for months. Wong says. At one point, his femur was broken in three places.

"It's one of the strongest bones in your body, and he was 47 at the time and relatively fit. He's not a frail man," she says.

The AP obtained medical records that verified his injuries.

Zhou eventually caved. Though he still maintains his innocence, Zhou signed a confession saying he'd accepted $6,600 in bribes and resigned.

When he was finally released in January 2013, he found that his options for recourse were limited.

"Police were unable to investigate this case because, basically, party matters fall outside the purview of police," Wong says.

His complaints to higher-ups in the party have so far gone unanswered. The officials that the AP reached "denied that any form of torture had taken place," Wong says. "But, after we made those calls, officials called Zhou warning him against talking to the foreign media about what happened."

Wong says it's hard to know whether Zhou's in danger now.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Xi Jingping, the Chinese president, has made it the priority of his term in office to eliminate corruption within the Communist Party.

GILLIAN WONG: The party desperately wants the appearance of cracking down hard on corruption because they understand that rampant corruption is threatening the party's legitimacy.

RATH: Gillian Wong is a reporter for the Associated Press in Beijing. She has uncovered a story about how that crackdown has led to cases of abuse and torture.

WONG: The way it goes about investigating corruption tends to be so opaque - within the party, controlled entirely by the party - that, you know, it allows for these types of abuse to occur.

RATH: The investigations are carried out under the government's detention and disciplinary system called shuanggui.

WONG: It is an extra-legal form of detention, in that, you know, it operates entirely outside of the scrutiny or oversight of police or courts.

RATH: The party insists they need shuanggui because the corruption is just that endemic. Corrupt officials, they say, could influence the legal process.

WONG: The party's solution to this is that it needs to go around the police and courts and order investigations into these officials where they can't control police officers or judges. When you spare them away into secret detention, they can't call their allies and corroborate testimonies. They can't hide evidence. They can't run away. Those are all the arguments that the party has for needing this system.

RATH: Her report tells a story of a local official named Zhou Wangyen. She first saw his story on a Chinese lawyer's blog and convinced him to talk to her. Zhou was a director of this local land resources bureau. He parcels out land for developers. Wong says it's very common for developers to bribe officials like Zhou, and that's what first led authorities to him.

WONG: If he were arrested formally, that would have almost been a better fate for him.

RATH: Zhou Wangyen was accused of accepting bribes. He tells Gillian Wong that he is innocent.

WONG: He was in his office one morning when three men from the local party's discipline inspection commission, who are the anti-graft investigators, showed up at his office and just told him he was to come with them.

RATH: Zhou made a call to his boss and another to his wife. He told her he'd be home soon. It turned out those investigators were convinced that Zhou had accepted about $16,000 in bribes, and they wanted him to confess.

WONG: They made him stand, and they surrounded him with men on four sides and just kept pushing him back and forth between them, letting him rest only for an hour a night. And this went on for a whole week.

RATH: According to Wong's reporting, that was just the beginning. Zhou was moved from location to location. They deprived him of sleep. Finally, they took him to the party's detention center.

WONG: From the outside, it looks like just any other plain government building, except it's got rows of steel bars across all of its windows. And inside, the rooms are fitted with walls and are covered in padding. Every corner is covered with a soft material. Taps are built into the wall so detainees are not able to hurt themselves, the argument goes.

RATH: Wong says that's where he encountered the worst abuse.

WONG: He found himself beaten. He was only allowed one bowl of rice a day. They pressed his face into water in the sink until he thought he was drowning.

RATH: Gillian Wong says he was tortured for months. She says his femur, his thigh bone, was broken in three places.

WONG: You know, it's one of the strongest bones in your body, and he was 47 at the time and relatively fit. He's not a frail man.

RATH: The Associated Press has obtained records that verify Zhou's injuries. Doctors had to put three pins in his femur.

WONG: Medical records show that his legs, you know, from his thighs, his calves, his feet were swollen. The skin was red and hot, and there were huge bruises on his left thigh.

RATH: Gillian Wong says that when he was finally released, Zhou found that his options for recourse were limited.

WONG: Police were unable to investigate this case because, basically, party matters fall outside of the purview of police.

RATH: And his official complaints to party higher-ups have so far gone unanswered.

WONG: The officials we reached, they denied that any form of torture had taken place. But after we made those calls, officials called Zhou telling him - warning him against talking to the foreign media about what happened.

RATH: Gillian Wong is a reporter for the Associated Press in Beijing. She says it's hard to know whether Zhou Wangyen is in danger now. You can read more about Zhou Wangyen and find a link to Gillian Wong's story at our website npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Support your
public radio station