The Chinese Communist Party does not generally distribute its dirty laundry in public. So it was a worrying sign last month when China’s state media reported startling allegations against a disgraced senior police official: Sun Lijun, a former vice minister of public security who has been detained for more than one year for a vague disciplinary violation of the party, had formed a political clique that must be purged from the Chinese political system, CCP investigators said. The wording of the prosecution suggested that more officials, possibly at even higher levels of government, could still be trapped in the alleged conspiracy.
Just days before the allegations against Sun were published in the press, a former justice minister, Fu Zhenghua, was also taken into custody. It is not known if Fu and Sun are part of the same clique, but they are not alone. Since February, the CCP has recognized discipline more than 170,000 officials and secretly detain nearly 3,000 of them as part of a campaign to rectify China’s law enforcement and justice system. Those who serve the country’s politicized legal system, it seems, are mistreated just as they mistreated others.
The rectification campaign is the latest in a series of nationwide crackdowns launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping. In 2012, Xi launched an anti-corruption campaign, and in 2018, he launched a campaign against vice, including drug trafficking, gambling, and other gang-related crimes. Both crackdowns were aimed at cleaning up the often corrupt Chinese bureaucracy and consolidating Xis’ legitimacy, eliminating rivals and suppressing dissent. Chinese authorities have claimed that the current campaign is targeting corrupt elements within the law enforcement and judicial systems, including officials who took bribes to free well-connected criminals on medical parole. In practice, however, this campaign also aims to turn the law into a tool for Xi’s own power.
SHARP KNIFE TURNS INSIDE
At the heart of Xis’ rectification campaign is a secret detention system. For years this system was known as shuanggui, which means showing up at a designated place at a designated time, and it was managed by the CPC Central Disciplinary Commission. According to a 2016 Human Rights Watch investigation, which involved interviews with victims and their families as well as court records and other official documents, those subjected to shuanggui were held in secret locations for months without access to lawyers or family members. They were victims of physical and psychological violence, including beatings, solitary confinement, prolonged sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, lack of food and water and threats to their families. By law, China prohibits the use of evidence directly obtained through torture. But in practice, judges rarely reject such illegal evidence, especially if it has been obtained through shuanggui. Human Rights Watch found no cases in which courts acquitted suspects for investigators’ misconduct during the shuanggui.
In 2018, the Chinese government replaced shuanggui with liuzhi, which can be translated into stay and placement, and has created a new super anti-graft agency, the National Supervisory Commission, to oversee it. Liuzhi follows stricter procedures than its predecessor, including detention times, but unlike shuanggui, the new system targets a wide range of people, not just party officials. Anyone deemed to hold public authority may be subject to liuzhi, including teachers in public schools. By regulating and institutionalizing shuanggui, in other words, the CCP has transformed a system of internal party detention that existed outside the law into a system that empowers and strengthens party authority over the law.
Many detainees are victims of physical and psychological violence.
Over the past three years, reports of abuse under liuzhi have emerged. In May 2018, the driver of a CCP official deceased during liuzhi in Fujian province. His face was deformed, his chest collapsed, according to a family member who saw his body and gave an interview to the Chinese newspaper Caixin. In another case, another official, Yang Meng, testified in court that liuzhi interrogators detained him in a tiger chairused to immobilize suspects during interrogation for 18 hours a day for five months, rubbed his eyes with pungent oil and made him shine bright lights around the clock. Yang now suffers from hearing loss, poor eyesight and other physical impairments. But the court that heard his case, in September 2020, has so far refused to order a medical examination to assess his injuries, allow his lawyers full access to video of his interrogations, or reject the evidence. obtained under torture, according to his lawyers.
During the current rectification campaign, liuzhi has been used as a weapon against law enforcement and the judiciary itself. CCP Turned Sharp Knife Inward, Official Says Propaganda, in order to scrape toxins from the bones. The aim is to instill a feeling of fear and, through it, absolute loyalty and acquiescence to the demands of the party. The ironic result has been the persecution of officials such as Sun and Fu, who have been implicated in previous crackdowns on human rights lawyers, civil society, and other perceived enemies of the CCP. One of their victims was Wang Quanzhang, a human rights lawyer who was detained and tortured for three years before being convicted in 2019 of the invented crime of subversion of state power. The previous year, a foreign reporter had questioned Fu, who was then Minister of Justice, about the reason for Wang’s long disappearance. Fu replied that China is a country of law. A person’s freedom and rights are all treated according to the law. Given that China’s criminal conviction rate exceeds 99.9%, one wonders if Fu would say the same now.
RULE OF LAW
The CCP compared its current rectification campaign to that carried out by Mao Zedong over 80 years ago. In the name of rescuing those who got it wrong, including spies and Trotskyists, Mao eradicated his rivals in a brutal campaign of intimidation and repression between 1942 and 1945. Yanan’s so-called rectification campaign has makes widespread use of torture, including executions; how many perished in this purge is unknown. Despite or perhaps because of the massive toll of human suffering, the campaign played a crucial role in establishing Maos’ personality cult.
Xis’ rectification campaign appears less bloodthirsty in comparison. But his insidious character stems in part from the veneer of legality he sought to give it: unlike Mao, who largely determined the course of Yanan’s rectification campaign himself, Xi channeled his campaign through institutions. the judiciary, which detained and officials punished in accordance with alleged rules and standards of evidence. (Even the tiger chairs used today liuzhi the sessions are carried out on assembly lines by companies that Claim respect human rights.)
Basically, however, Xis’ campaign is a sinister manipulation of the very concept of law. After Maos’ death, the Chinese government rebuilt its legal system partly in line with liberal political ideas, as lawyer Eva Pils has said. documented. Alongside Deng Xiaoping’s economic and political reforms, a legal perspective in the tradition of Friedrich Hayek and John Rawls who presented the law as an arbitrary restriction on power, an attractive proposition for those who have just emerged from the traumas of the Mao era. This prospect has always been in tension with the party’s authoritarianism, but it won some time in part because Chinese lawyers pressured the government to fulfill its promises of a liberal rule of law.
The most influential lawyers in China are now anti-liberal.
Xi turned the tide; the most influential jurists in China are now anti-liberal. Some were even influenced by the Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt, whose school of thought is defensive of arbitrary uses of power, according to Pils, and considers the laws justified by the existence of enemies of the political order.
The Xi’s crackdown on law enforcement and the judiciary is growing. China is turning away from liberal legal principles. In November, the Ministry of Public Security published a new version of the oath taken by all new police officers. While recruits once had to swear to be staunchly loyal to the Party, they now have to staunchly support the absolute leadership of the Party and also pledge to defend political security. Tellingly, the new oath omits the old requirement to promote social equity and justice. The change, the ministry explained, is aimed at ensuring that the police remain ideologically, politically and operationally. . . consistent[t] with Xi. The primary goal of law enforcement, in other words, is not the safety or security of the Chinese people but loyalty to the Chinese leader himself.
As Xi tightens his grip on the Chinese political system, he is refining his instruments of coercion and ensuring that only he can wield them. Like previous campaigns against corruption and vice, Xis’ campaign to rectify law enforcement and the judiciary aims to strengthen his authority and eliminate potential rivals. But it also aims to bend the entire Chinese legal system to its will and ensure that society, like Sun and Fu, must obey and submit.
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