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Torture trial puts rule of law on trial

 BEIJING (AsiaNews): Six Communist Party officials went on trial in Beijing on September 17 to answer charges of torturing a man to death during an internal investigation.

The trial has brought a practice known as shuanggui, a form of extra-legal detention imposed on party officials under investigation for disciplinary violations, out into the open.

The practice has come under fire from human rights advocates, lawyers and even party members. For many, this trial is a turning point that will show whether or not China is becoming a country governed by the rule of law.

The accused include a local prosecutor and five officials from the party’s dreaded corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which has sweeping powers to detain indefinitely and question any official suspected of wrongdoing.

Bo Xilai, the convicted former party boss in Chongqing, was detained by the commission for 17 months before he was brought to trial.

In the trial that opened on September 17, the accused could face the death penalty. The prosecution is claiming that the six officials drowned 42-year-old Yu Qiyi, the chief engineer at a state firm in Wenzhou.

Yu remained in the hands of his persecutors for 38 days, his family was not informed of his arrest and no court validated the commission’s decisions. 

Yu died under interrogation, during which the accused are said to have taken turns to dunk him in a bucket of ice-cold water to extract a confession.

According to the indictment, he was tortured in a way common to interrogation sessions in modern China.

Although the government declared it illegal in 1996 and has signed international conventions against its use in prisons, non-government organisations and human rights advocates have shown that the practice never disappeared. 

According to the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, torture is still widespread in China.

“I believe that these egregious cases in which officials who have been under shuanggui have died rarely enter the judicial process,” Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer representing Yu’s family, said.

“We think this case is a real tool to measure whether China wants to become a country ruled by law,” Si Weijiang, a second lawyer for the family, said.

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