Recent findings in a report on the Communist Party’s secret detention system throws the credibility of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign into question, New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.
The shuanggui system is a detention system run by the Party’s Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDI), the secretive top anti-graft body which monitors party members for wrongdoing.
The system is shrouded in secrecy, but reports by foreign and Chinese media have shed some light on it. Under shuanggui – which can be translated as “double designation” or “double regulation” – party officials are ordered to appear in a designated time and place to answer for their actions.
Detainees are typically held in secret locations, without family members being notified about why or where they are being held. The system has been described by party experts as an indispensable tool in fighting corruption.
Detainees are interrogated about graft or other alleged violations of party rules. Former detainees have told foreign media in rare interviews about beatings, torture, sleep deprivation, and being forced to maintain uncomfortable positions for long periods. Interviews in HRW’s report corroborated these claims.
The massive anti-corruption drive launched by Xi shortly after he came to power has been a distinctive feature of his leadership, but it has been criticised by commentators as a move to purge his enemies within the party.
System ‘dependent on human rights abuses’
The report, based on firsthand interviews with victims, family members and lawyers, accounts of detainees from Chinese media reports, and analysis of 38 court verdicts, also found a new connection between the CDI and the procuratorate in corruption investigations.
Although the shuanggui process and investigations conducted by the procuratorate are meant to be separate, HRW found that procurators often work with CDI officers in shuanggui interrogations as “joint investigations.”
“These ‘joint investigations’ allow procurators to skirt procedural protections available to criminal suspects, and to extract confessions which are then used in legal proceedings,” said Maya Wang, a researcher at HRW.
The system not only facilitates human rights abuses, it depends on them to strike fear into party members, the report said.
It depends on prolonged and indefinite detention, which causes detainees’ minds to “collapse after…three to five days” and “answer everything you ask,” a source who identified himself as a CDI officer told HRW.
After “confessing” to corruption, detainees are typically brought into the criminal justice system, convicted, and sentenced to prison, often for lengthy terms, the report found.
The system’s lack of transparency makes it very difficult to hold officers and guards accountable for violating rules. The NGO found only two cases where low-level interrogators and guards were jailed after torturing and killing shuanggui detainees.
“There are reasons that political parties shouldn’t run detention and interrogation systems,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told HKFP.
“That is a job that should be left to the police and the procuratorate, especially in a one-party state. The kinds of abuses, not just the inherent existence of this system, but that take place within its confines, are pretty shocking.
“And I think for a P5 member and the world’s second biggest economy – that its one and only political party doesn’t even have the confidence in its own judicial system to prosecute its own cases there, I think there’s a lot of questions to ask about the credibility of the anti-corruption campaign.”
The report calls for the shuanggui system to be abolished as a “necessary first step” before China can solve its problems with corruption.
“Relying on an internal, non-transparent Party mechanism to investigate corruption cases effectively cedes the power to investigate and detain people to political elites,” it said. “The resulting anti-corruption drive is thus at least partly a political purge in which the strongest elements within the political structure are able to use the CDI and the judicial system to root out undesirable elements.”
“China has a serious problem with corruption, but successfully combating it requires an independent judicial system, a free media, and robust protections for the rights of suspects,” the NGO said.