Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Official Fear: Inside a Shuanggui Investigation Facility

There is a strong sense among many Chinese that corrupt officials must die. Recently, there were reports of public cheering for the death sentences of the deputy mayors of Suzhou and Hangzhou, and the executions of the head of the State Food and Drug Administration and the director of the Chongqing Municipal Justice Bureau. News of the number of corrupt high officials spared the death penalty also garnered much attention. 

Translated below, a recent post by Chinese blogger Chu Zhaoxian (储昭贤) reveals a lesser-known, and arguably equally ruthless, tactic primarily used for dealing with Party members accused of corruption: shuanggui (双规). People facing shuanggui, which can be translated as “dual designation” and refers to a designated time and place of inquiry, are usually apprehended at their places of work or summoned for “voluntary visits” with investigators. They are then held in an undisclosed location, often a specially designed hotel or office building. There have been reports of psychological manipulation and physical torture during detention and interrogation, such as sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, burning the detainee’s skin with cigarettes, and beating. Since shuanggui is rooted in Party regulations instead of formal legislation, it is a form of extra-legal detention. Because such regulations lack the transparency afforded by a legal system, the extent to which human rights violations are committed during shuanggui is not well documented.

Despite its susceptibility to human rights violations, shuanggui gained the unashamed support of Chu, who assumes the same disposition of his readers. In the post, Chu describes his rare visit to a shuanggui investigation facility. The circumstances that led to the visit are unexplained; however, the trip does result in the publication of what Dui Hua believes to be the first photographic exposé of the inside of a shuanggui investigation facility. 

Throughout his cold description of the rooms and instruments used for detention and interrogation, Chu drops menacing words of caution for the corrupt. He states that corrupt officials tremble with fear at the mention of shuanggui and do not make it three days before confessing. Chu ends the post with another warning: “Do not be invited here. If you come here, your days will seem like years. There is no rank before the law.” 

Chu may be correct that “days will seem like years.” Shuanggui usually lasts several months and can extend to more than one year. Some shuanggui cases, particularly high-profile ones, are converted into criminal cases and adjudicated through the formal judicial process. The typical sentence is death or life imprisonment, with all property confiscated and official positions revoked. The following table summarizes some recent cases:

Position held prior to shuanggui
Alleged offenses
Start of shuanggui
Criminal sentence, date of sentence
Chen Shaoji Chairman, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Guangdong Province Accepting bribes, embezzlement Apr 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Jul 2010
Huang Yao Chairperson, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Guizhou Province Accepting bribes, facilitating an illegal mining enterprise Oct 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Dec 2010
Kang Rixin Party Secretary and General Manager, China National Nuclear Corporation; former member, Committee for Discipline Inspection Accepting bribes, embezzling shareholder equity Aug 2009 Life imprisonment, Nov 2010
Li Tangtang Vice Chairman, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region Accepting bribes Oct 2010 Life imprisonment, Apr 2011
Liu Zhijun Party Secretary, National Railway Ministry “Severe violations of discipline,” manipulating competitive bidding Feb 2011 Pending
Lü Jiangbo Village Director, Keren Village, Jinjiang City, Fujian Province “Obstructing official business” (organizing village protests of land seizure) Feb 2010 11 years’ imprisonment, Oct 2010
Pi Qiansheng Director, Special Economic Zone, Tianjin Municipality Illegal receipt of property, “seeking and facilitating benefits for others” Jun 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Dec 2010
Song Yong Deputy Director, Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress Accepting bribes, embezzlement Oct 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Jan 2011
Wang Huayuan Member, Party Committee for Discipline Inspection, Zhejiang Province Accepting bribes Apr 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Sep 2010
Xu Zhongheng Mayor, Shenzhen Accepting bribes Jun 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, May 2011
Zhang Meifang Deputy Director, Department of Finance, Jiangsu Province Accepting bribes Nov 2010 Pending
Zheng Shaodong Assistant Department Head, Ministry of Public Security; member, Party Committee Accepting bribes Jan 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Sep 2010
Zhu Zhigang Director, Commission for Budget Affairs of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Accepting bribes, abusing position to advantage others financially, manipulating real estate prices Oct 2008 Life imprisonment, May 2010
Despite possible human rights abuses, or perhaps because of them, shuanggui is likely to remain a common anti-corruption measure for years to come. As the number of officials found guilty of corruption rises, it stands to reason that shuanggui, which can often be a path to harsh criminal sentences, would have some popular support. (As an indication of interest, Chu’s article spread virally with numerous re-postings by various blogs and news media.) Two reasons likely contribute to such support. First, shuanggui detainees are commonly accused of unpopular acts of corruption and graft. Second, shuanggui is almost exclusively used against Party members, who are part of an elevated socioeconomic group that comprises only 6 percent of Chinese citizens. Sadly, acceptance of shuanggui seems to have seeped into international human rights circles and resulted in a dearth of relevant research and advocacy. While stamping out corruption is a worthy cause, it by no means warrants extra-legal detention, torture, or lack of transparency and rule of law. Endnote: Days after publication, Chu’s article was deleted along with all but one of its re-postings. The remaining post contained none of the original photos and has since been deleted.
Where Corrupt Officials Fear Most: Exploring a Shuanggui Investigation Facility Chu Zhaoxian April 28, 2011

A popular saying among Chinese government officials goes: “Fear not the heavens or the earth, but fear the summons of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s Anti-Corruption Office.”

I had a rare opportunity to visit a shuanggui anti-corruption investigation facility. There was no advance notice that I would be brought to this place. When the car reached the highway exit of another city, a police car appeared in front of us and led the way. We were driven through rugged and muddy mountain roads, until we were well within remote mountains. Getting out of the car, I looked around and saw nothing but the desolate mountains. We entered an ordinary-looking courtyard and stopped before a small building, where People’s Armed Police were standing guard.

On the other side, a leader led us into the building and through the security check machines. Not until we passed the security check could we start to move about normally.

Shuanggui stems from Article 28, Section 3 of the Investigations Regulations of the Ministry of Supervision of the Communist Party of China, which “demands a person relevant to a case to appear at a designated time and place to provide explanations regarding all aspects of the case.”

This is the hallway of the investigation facility.

Behind this door is the interrogation room of the facility, where investigators interrogate corrupt officials. Please note the term “interrogation room.” When a person enters this room, it is evident that the [Party] organization has already obtained conclusive evidence that the person is a corrupt official.

These are the investigators’ seats in the interrogation room. Note the presence of video cameras.

The lower podium across [from the investigators’ seats] is the seat for the corrupt official. Regardless of your past brilliance or elevated status, once you are invited to this place, your height [in the lower podium] is the same.

The walls are made of special materials. They are soft to touch, soundproof, and prevent accidents.

Protective fences are installed on the windows. Outside, there are only mountains, remote and uninhabited, leaving one with a desolate feeling. 

The Central Committee for Discipline Inspection’s shuanggui system makes all problem officials tremble with fear. It is also known as “the sharp sword for punishing corrupt officials.”

This is the inquiry room, which is substantially different from the interrogation room.

The inquiry room also has installed a series of equipment [capable of performing] synchronous audio recording, synchronous video recording, synchronous broadcast, and synchronous backup [so that] the entire process of investigation and inquiry is simultaneously supervised. Note the arrangement of the table and chairs, which differs from that of the interrogation room.

This is the psychological examination room.

The psychological examination room has many advanced instruments. Lies are immediately detected. [The instruments] are very sensitive.

[This is the] investigations command room.

I am especially fascinated by this big monitor, which I had only heard of but never seen before. This is the investigations command room’s monitor of the investigation status in every room. Using [a big monitor to provide] a clear picture at a glance is very appropriate. 

I heard that all corrupt officials who are summoned to the investigation facility have their contemptuous behavior exposed. Living under shuanggui is what they fear most. Within three days, they will confess. 

Due to special reasons, some photographs and descriptions have been left out. [Here is] a warning for government officials to bear in mind: The power in your hands is given by the people for seeking the benefit of the people. Do not betray the people’s trust. Be a good official with both competence and integrity. Do not be invited here. If you come here, your days will seem like years. There is no rank before the law.