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Friday, April 4, 2014
Abusing its own
China's Communist Party uses brutality to yield confessions of graft from its members

The local Chinese official remembers all too clearly the panic he felt. He had refused again and again to confess to bribery he says he didn't commit as his four Communist Party interrogators tortured him. Zhou Wangyan begged them to stop. But the men continued until Zhou's leg was broken. According to Zhou, they ignored his pleas for aid even when that happened.

Zhou, land bureau director for the city of Liling, was confined in the party's secret detention system at a compound in central Hunan, touted as a model center for anti-corruption efforts. Nobody on the outside could help him because nobody knew where he was. In a rare act of public defiance, Zhou and three other party members in Hunan described to The Associated Press the months of abuse they endured less than two years ago, in separate cases, while in detention.

Zhou said he was deprived of sleep and food, nearly drowned and whipped with wires. The others reported being turned into human punching bags or dragged along the floor, face down, by their feet. All said they talked to the media despite the risk of retaliation because they wanted to expose what had happened. Party representatives denied the abuses had taken place.

At present in China, an increasingly prosperous and better-educated public is pressuring the party to tackle rampant graft, and the party has responded with China's biggest anti-corruption campaign in years. However, the party's methods for extracting confessions put its 85 million members at risk of abuse through its internal investigation system, which is separate from state justice. While police are legally required to notify the relatives of detained suspects, the party is under no such obligation. And since its powers are unchecked by police, prosecutors and courts, the party can abuse its own members in its secret jails with impunity.

It's impossible to tell how rare or common such abuse is. The opaqueness of the system also makes it impossible to tell whether corruption investigations are legitimate. Local anti-graft officials on a Hunan online forum in February last year denied Zhou was tortured, saying he injured himself by slipping in the bathroom. Eighteen months after his leg was broken, Zhou still limps on crutches. "My time in the detention center was tragic and brutal," he said. "Those 184 days and five hours were not a life lived by a human. It was worse than being a pig or a dog."

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