The ruling Chinese Communist Party has ordered a probe into deaths of its officials from "unnatural causes" following a rise in the number of reported suicides among them, according to statements posted on a number of provincial websites.
Government departments and agencies have been ordered to compile data on deaths, including place, circumstances and apparent causes of death, Communist Party and government officials who have recently died of "unnatural causes," as the number of apparent suicides in officialdom rises.
The directive requiring governments to count and provide the figures appeared on government websites in at least nine provinces, Caixin Media reported.
The notices were publicly visible on official websites in Zhejiang, Shandong, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia on Friday.
Reports must detail whether the person was confirmed to have committed suicide. If so, details of how, where and why must be given, the order states. Details of any subsequent investigation must also be given, it said.
If suicides are listed, the reasons behind them must also be listed. Respondents must pick from a list of seven possible factors contributing to a reported suicide, including "stress," "depression" and "party discipline."
The order, signed by local branches of the Communist Party's organization department, which is in charge of personnel and recruitment, requires figures covering the period from the 18th Party Congress in November 2012 until the end of last year.
No reason given
However, the order gives no reason for the survey, which comes amid a nationwide anti-campaign launched by President Xi Jinping, who has vowed to go after both high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies."
According to Caixin, the move could be a response to concerns over strong-arm tactics used by the party's anti-graft investigation arm, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
It cited online news reports as showing that at least 50 party and government officials have died of "unnatural causes" since Xi took power.
Guangzhou-based independent commentator Ye Du said reports suggest that many officials see suicide as a legitimate way to evade investigation for graft, thereby maintaining any assets to pass on to family members.
"The phenomenon of unnatural causes of death among officials is directly linked to the anti-corruption campaign," Ye said. "A lot of deaths are official ascribed to depression or various illnesses, but everyone knows that this is a lie."
He said targeting individuals for corruption is fairly meaningless in today's China.
"Cases of individual corruption are extremely rare; it's all a web of vested interests," Ye said. "If one node on the network [is investigated], it risks dragging others down with it."
"I think a lot of officials are forced to choose this route so as to protect the entire network," he said.
He said Xi's anti-corruption campaign is highly selective. "It's a form of political struggle and purge," he said. "Once the storm has passed, everyone coming up through the ranks will carry on with their corrupt activities."
According to the China Youth Daily newspaper, 54 officials died under "unnatural" circumstances from January 2013 to June 2014.
And the Beijing Express newspaper counted 31 official deaths between Jan. 1 and July 31, 2014, including 16 suicides, 13 of which were committed by jumping from tall buildings.
Former Shaanxi TV journalist Ma Xiaoming told RFA the authorities are growing increasingly concerned about the growing number of official suicides.
"That these officials are committing suicide shows that Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign is having a definite effect," Ma said.
"It has creating a climate of such high pressure that some people experience psychological collapse, or are terrorized by it," he said.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.