Beijing (dpa) – The Chinese government still uses a secretive detention system called “shuanggui” to extract confessions from Communist Party members suspected of corruption, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Tuesday.
In recent years, dozens of former officials have been deprived of sleep, food and water and subject to severe beatings, according to the report, which cites 11 cases of individuals who died while in shuanggui custody.
The shuanggui system “functions beyond the reach of China’s criminal justice system” and gives a commission within the Chinese Communist Party “the authority to summon any of the Communist Party’s 88 million members to account for allegedly ill-gotten gains,” the report said.
“Those summoned are deprived of liberty for days, weeks, or months, during which time they are repeatedly interrogated and often tortured.”
The practice dates back to 1990, according to the report.
Former detainees said they were held in modified hostels with no windows and which had features such as padded walls. They were guarded by teams of officials, and interrogated frequently.
“If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well,” one former detainee said.
“My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus.”
The non-profit group’s report was based in part on interviews with four former shuanggui detainees as well as analysis of court verdicts and 35 detailed cases culled from Chinese media reports.
All of the suspects featured in the report were found guilty of corruption.
In some cases, non-party members such as family members were also detained, the report found. In these cases, authorities often don’t give a justification for the detention.
“President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.
“Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system,” she said.
The Chinese government is yet to comment on the report.
A January statement from the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which oversees the shuanggui system, said the aim of the method is to “request staff to explain relevant issues during a specified time and in a specified place.”
“Torture, inducement to a confession, physical punishment and maltreatment … are strictly prohibited” during the process, the statement said.
The campaign ostensibly aims to take on corrupt officials in both high and low positions, and has lasted longer and struck at a more senior level than many analysts expected.
Bo Xilai, former party chief of the southern Chongqing municipality, was reportedly held under shuanggui, where he said he confessed under “improper pressure.”
He was later sentenced to life in prison in September 2013, after having been found guilty of corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power.