Family, friends say Zhu Shengwen was framed, tortured
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2004—Relatives and associates of a former deputy mayor in China who died in prison are rejecting official accounts of his death, which say he committed suicide by jumping out of a third-floor window, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
They also maintain that Zhu Shengwen, former deputy mayor of the northeastern city of Harbin, was framed for corruption and tortured into making a confession.
Zhu, 57, died after a fall from a bathroom window in the Harbin No. 3 Prison on Dec. 29, following what official media said was a struggle with a prison guard who tried to prevent him from jumping.
Zhu, who apparently had a good chance of being released on medical parole, was serving a 17-year jail term for corruption.
According to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, Zhu was "depressed" and "suicidal" before his death.
But Zhu's wife, Fan Zhen, rejected the Xinhua report as baseless, saying no one had reported this to her. "They fabricated this," she told RFA's Mandarin service. "They never even talked to me."
Zhu had protested his innocence, and National People's Congress representatives in Beijing as well as international human rights agencies took seriously his allegations that police had extracted a confession by torturing him.
His family and associates have now detailed, in a series of interviews with RFA, how Zhu was the victim of a legal and judicial system in the northeastern industrial city of Harbin that was, and may remain, fundamentally corrupt.
"In our family we have never gone along with the story that he killed himself. There are many reasons for this, and many areas of doubt," Zhu's sister Zhu Fengxian said.
"My brother knew several foreign languages. It is highly unlikely that he would be unable to make a living once he got out of jail. It's ridiculous to say he killed himself," she said.
Zhu's wife Fan Zhen agreed, saying that her husband was tortured into confessing in the first place to a crime that he hadn't committed.
She said Zhu was tortured by specially selected investigators under the aegis of a corrupt fellow official whose illegal activities her husband had discovered in 1995.
"They had him kneeling on the floor, beaten by four men," she said.
"The police officer in charge said to him quite openly, 'Even if you make it up, you've got to confess to taking that money from Zhang.' So he did, because he couldn't take it any more."
Zhu was accused of accepting 70,000 yuan (U.S.$8,500) in bribes related to a property development scandal surrounding the World Trade City development in Harbin.
But Fan and Zhu's close associate Yuan Ying, who is now living in abroad and spoke on condition of anonymity, say he was framed by the very man who appropriated 16 million yuan (about U.S.$2 million) from the provincial workers' pension fund to invest in a failed property development.
"Now that's a very serious matter, the provincial pension fund," Yuan said. "He discovered that [this illegal loan] had been approved by this other deputy mayor. This man you could say was the most powerful man in the city. He had no respect for anyone. This sort of person has backup; nobody dare mess with him."
The deputy mayor in question, Yue Yuquan, had responsibility for all the criminal law enforcement bodies in the city, from criminal courts, to state prosecution offices, right down to local police officers and prisons.
Yuan and Fan are convinced he used his political clout to extract illegal confessions from Zhu and the man accused of bribing him in the World Trade City affair, Zhang Tingpu.
Yuan said that when Zhu realized what was happening, he took precautions to protect himself. "He had to supply false dates in his confession on which he was supposed to have accepted the bribes from Zhang," he said.
"He told them that he had received the bribes on days on which he was actually out of Harbin on important business—when it was very clear that he was not in town at the time. They didn't undertake any investigation into this."
Yuan said Zhu had pointed this out during his trial, including the fact that the police hadn't thought to check it.
He also asked in the courtroom that Zhang should explain how he had given him the bribes, Yuan said. But the Harbin People's Intermediate Court never allowed Zhang, a critical witness, to appear in court.
Zhu's report of his experiences under interrogation before and after his trial was taken up by the United Nations committee on torture, by Amnesty International, and even by the law and order committee of China's parliament, the National People's Congress.
However, the results of any Chinese investigation into the case remain unknown.
"After medical parole, my husband planned to find a job, to buy a lot of books and read them all. But I have no one to whom I can tell this story in China," Fan Zhen said.
In 1998, Amnesty International said it had received a 34-page statement from Zhu detailing torture sessions aimed at forcing him to confess.
During one session of torture by four interrogators, the statement says, "They took turns punching me in the abdomen while violently twisting and lifting my arms from behind to such height that the wrenching pain made me almost faint. Because I was still locked to the chair, there was no way for me to protect myself. All I could do was scream."
During another session, Zhu wrote, he was punched and kicked and repeatedly given electric shocks with an electric baton, which made him roll from one end of the floor to the other, screaming and convulsing hysterically.
"While we are not in a position to investigate the claims made in Zhu's statement, we are appalled by the allegations that he was tortured, imprisoned in secrecy for more than 20 months, and denied even the minimum safeguards provided by Chinese law for a fair judicial process," Amnesty International said.