When it comes to human rights in China, one can point to many provisions in the constitution, laws, and regulations designed to protect all sorts of individual rights. Problems often arise, however, when these provisions are inconsistently enforced or, in some cases, willfully ignored.
There is perhaps no clearer illustration of this than the case of Li Jiyi. Arrested in 2002 on suspicion of theft, Li died in custody after being tortured by four police officers in Qiongzhong County, Hainan. Li’s family spent years trying to get some accountability for this police abuse, but were faced with repeated obstacles by a local public security bureau unwilling to investigate itself. The officers involved were eventually sent to prison and in the end a court awarded Li’s family with state compensation. But faced with the court’s compensation order, the public security bureau refused to pay, arguing that to do so would weaken police morale and initiative.
China frequently reiterates its commitment to combat torture. “Coercion of confessions” is prohibited under Chinese criminal law, and new rules were recently issued governing the exclusion as evidence statements extracted under torture. But despite these prohibitions, torture remains an endemic problem in a criminal justice system that places a heavy emphasis on confession of guilt and features few real credible institutions to oversee a powerful police force.
To Xu Mingxuan, who frequently comments on legal issues in the Chinese media, what happened to Li Jiyi is bad enough, but what his family subsequently endured is simply inexcusable. In an opinion published in the November 17 edition of the Beijing News, Xu points out that privileging police morale and power over justice for victims of police brutality is incompatible with any reasonable conception of rule of law. He asks rhetorically how police can be so audacious and ignorant of such common-sense ideas. Perhaps one need only look to the emphasis given to “stability above all else” for an answer.
To Refuse Compensation is to Turn a Blind Eye to Torture
November 17, 2010
In a country with rule of law, such defiance of the law by local law-enforcement agents is hard to imagine. Over the past eight years, police in Hainan’s Qiongzhong Li and Miao Ethnicity Autonomous County first tortured a man to death, then resisted investigating the case, and finally refused to honor a court’s 580,000-yuan state compensation judgment on the grounds that it would “hurt police initiative.”
According to a report on the People’s Daily website, Li Jiyi was taken into custody in 2002 for theft and was later tortured to death. His family members sought answers from police, but the Qiongzhong County Public Security Bureau did not put the case on file [for investigation]. After two years of petitioning and lodging complaints, in 2004 the procuratorate performed an autopsy and police filed a case, but the next year the county public security bureau again said that it could not proceed with the case. After two more years, in 2008, four defendants were found guilty of coercing confessions and given sentences of up to 13 years. In 2009, Li’s family sought state compensation from the county public security bureau, but the bureau gave no response. Family members again filed an administrative lawsuit, and in a final ruling this past June the public security bureau was ordered to pay more than 580,000 yuan in compensation to family members of the deceased.
I have tried to relate as succinctly as possible the story of how Li’s family spent the past eight years petitioning and defending their rights, yet it still takes up considerable column space. But the difficulty involved in describing their story briefly is nothing compared to their unimaginable pain, suffering, and anger. Yet at each step of the way, local police slammed the door on justice, passed up every opportunity to regain public trust, and never showed an ounce of shame.
On another level, though, local police showed real “compassion” in the reasoning they gave for refusing to pay compensation to [the family of] the deceased. According to the State Compensation Law, the public security bureau would have to recover any compensation paid from the four who carried out the torture. But they were already paying a heavy price for the “lack of caution” that led to Li Jiyi’s death, and to make them come up with large sums in compensation as well would seriously dampen the initiative of public security officers! This explanation is ridiculous in the extreme—do they mean to protect the “initiative” to coerce confessions?
The court’s two binding judgments on coercion of confessions and state compensations could not be any clearer. Coercion of confessions is contempt for a suspect’s procedural rights and right to life. Refusing to investigate is contempt for the state’s law-enforcement authority and the procuratorate’s oversight authority. Failure to implement a court’s binding judgment is contempt for the court.
State compensation is a mechanism of self-correction for state organs and a way to make amends to victims. It is mandated by state law, so whether the public security bureau wants to pay compensation is not an issue. Moreover, as enforcers of the law [the police] are obliged in principle to set an example in carrying out a binding judicial decision—otherwise, doesn’t this put them in the same league as other “deadbeats”?
Refusal to compensate the victim’s family on the grounds that it would damage “police initiative” is the same as approving and turning a blind eye to torture. It seems that after eight years of being the target of rights defense activity, these local police still don’t have even the slightest basic understanding of rule of law—torture is illegal and those who enforce the law have no special extralegal authority. Eight years on, there is no reason why the local police should not possess this basic understanding of the law. So, where could the motivation and audacity to refuse to compensate the victim of torture possibly come from?