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China Widens Xi Jinping's Corruption Crackdown

The campaign to clean up the party's pervasive corruption has arguably been Xi Jinping's most popular initiative.

China Widens Xi Jinping's Corruption Crackdown
China's war on corruption has relied heavily on a shadowy, brutal extralegal justice system. (File)

BEIJING:  Millions of Chinese public sector workers will be exposed to the harsh policing tactics of the Communist Party as President Xi Jinping brings his corruption crackdown to China's sprawling bureaucracy.

The campaign to clean up the party's pervasive corruption has arguably been Xi's most popular initiative, pressuring its 89 million members to toe the line -- with more than 1.5 million officials punished in the past five years.

Legislators are finalising the creation of a new anti-graft apparatus that will also watch over non-party members -- everyone from managers at state-owned companies to people in administrative roles at schools and hospitals.

In Beijing alone, one of the areas where the new system was established on a pilot basis, the number of people under scrutiny quadrupled to one million, or about five percent of the city's population, officials said.

New national and local "supervision commissions" -- investigative agencies focused on corruption -- will operate alongside the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), sharing offices, personnel and perhaps leadership.

Further blurring the line between the state and party bodies, the National People's Congress (NPC) on Sunday named CCDI deputy secretary Yang Xiaodu as head of the National Supervision Commission.

The "anti-corruption powers are dispersed," explained one party leader during the NPC, saying the new body would harness and unify anti-graft efforts.

Rights groups worry the new body will institutionalise some of the problems that have led to abuses and even torture of suspects, while vastly expanding the number of people under its purview.

The system has a "veneer of legal legitimacy", said Maya Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), without "any meaningful improvements to guarantee due process".

Held without lawyer 

Legislators wrote the new supervision commissions into the country's constitution last week and will approve a law laying out their powers on Tuesday.

China's war on corruption has relied heavily on a shadowy, often brutal extralegal justice system known as "shuanggui", allowing investigators to hold party members in unofficial detention facilities until they "confess" to graft.

At least 11 individuals died under shanggui custody between 2010 and 2015, according to a 2016 HRW report.

Xi said last year that the shuanggui system would be phased out and replaced.

But the new law provides for a form of detention called "liuzhi", which rights groups say is a "legal" reincarnation of the shuanggui system and allows graft suspects to be held for up to six months with no provision for legal counsel.

In eastern Zhejiang province, shuanggui detention facilities are now being used as liuzhi centres, officials there said.

Under liuzhi suspects' family members must be notified within 24 hours of their detention -- except when they may "impede the investigation".

"Liuzhi provides no fair trial protections, not even the basic ones that exist under China's criminal procedures," said Wang.

Chen Qian, 58, a researcher at Yangquan city's national development and reform commission in northern Shanxi province, was one of the first public servants to face investigation by a new supervision commission.

Last year, he was held for almost two months as investigators probed two bribery cases against him.

But when Chen was formally arrested and transferred into China's criminal law system, the number of cases had ballooned to 38.

"The other 36 cases Chen Qian confessed to on his own during detention," his lawyer said while pleading for leniency, according to court documents.

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