Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature anti-corruption campaign relies on a secretive detention system internal to the ruling Chinese Communist Party that routinely tortures suspects to gain confessions, a new report has found.
The "shuanggui" system run by the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has no basis in Chinese law, but is the first to detain and question officials for suspected corruption, often holding them for long periods in secret and placing their family members under house arrest.
And according to a new report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), detainees under its "special measures" are often subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, enforced stress positions, deprivation of food and water, and beatings.
"President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system," HRW China director Sophie Richardson said in a statement on the group's website.
"Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system," she said.
HRW called on the Chinese government to abolish the shuanggui system, which is an extrajudicial process that takes place before any criminal charges are laid, and which sets a detailed blueprint for all the judicial processes that follow.
The report, based on in-depth interviews with four people who have been through the shuanggui system, also incorporates dozens of media reports and court verdicts that refer to it.
HRW China researcher Maya Wang told RFA that the party's internal investigation system has no basis in current Chinese law.
"It affects a very large number of people, and we believe that this is a very serious violation of human rights," she said.
"The CCDI system, in theory, is an internal party investigatory process that should be entirely separate from state agencies," she said. "But our investigation has found that state prosecutors play a direct role in it ... using it to extract confessions from suspects who have no legal protections whatsoever."
Disappearance starts process
All 88 million members of the Chinese Communist Party are subject to this system, which typically targets government officials and key public figures.
"The start of a shuanggui investigation is often marked by an individual’s disappearance," the HRW report said. "Family members are given no notification of the person’s detention or location, no information about the alleged infraction, or the length of detention."
"Detainees have no access to lawyers ... [and are typically held in] rooms in hostels with special features, such as padded walls or a lack of windows, to prevent suicides or escapes," it said.
Detainees are guarded round-the-clock and repeatedly interrogated by CCDI officials, the report said, detailing media reports of at least 11 deaths in shuanggui custody since 2010.
"If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well," one former detainee told HRW. "My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus."
Forced shuanggui "confessions" are often obtained with the cooperation of the state prosecution service, and later accepted routinely as evidence in court, HRW found.
"Eradicating corruption won’t be possible so long as the shuanggui system exists," Richardson said. "Every day this system threatens the lives of party members and underscores the abuses inherent in President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign."
Stripped of identity and treated roughly
The HRW report chimes with earlier accounts of the shuanggui system from rights lawyers, former Chinese officials, former inmates and journalists.
Canada-based political analyst and former Xinhua journalist Jiang Weiping, who served six years in prison on charges of revealing state secrets after he wrote articles exposing official corruption, said the shuanggui system has the power to destroy a person's life.
"Official suspects are of a different order to ordinary suspects; they are indefinitely detained under the party's internal shuanggui system, without recourse to due legal process," Jiang said.
"Suddenly, they are stripped of their personhood, and shunned by all around them, superiors and subordinates alike," he wrote in a September commentary broadcast by RFA's Mandarin Service. "Their colleagues avoid them like the plague."
"They are treated roughly and submitted to the full set of party 'housekeeping' skills until they are forced to confess," Jiang wrote.
According to HRW, the party's internal investigators are increasingly hiring medical staff to treat victims of torture to minimize the embarrassment caused by deaths in their custody.
Meanwhile, defendants who complain about the lack of legal protections when their case arrives in the legal system are threatened with being sent back to shuanggui, the report said.
"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."
Acquittals are extremely rare, and investigators who abuse inmates are often promoted rather than punished, the report found.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.