On July 1, the trial of four police officers for involvement in the death of Wan Jianguo (万建国), who died in August 2008 on his 35th day of detention, opened in Nanchang Intermediate People’s Court in Jiangxi Province. Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that three of the defendants said during cross examination that their superior, Xia Xiangdong, the fourth defendant, gave an explicit order to them to use violence. One officer, Guo Songlin, cried on the stand and apologized to the Wan family and his own family for the suffering he brought them. During the trial, the judge, contravening Chinese law and international norms, said that it would not be a conflict of interest for an attorney who once represented Wan’s family in the same case to now represent the fourth defendant.
Wan Jianguo was a representative for Nanchang Medical Company and became a suspect in 2008 in the case of six deaths resulting from injections of immunoglobulin manufactured by Boya Bio-pharmaceutical Company. On July 5, 2008, he was taken away by the Nanchang Public Security Bureau to “assist in the investigation.” On August 8, 35 days later, Wan Jianguo’s wife, Wu Peifen (吴佩奋), a teacher at a middle school in Nanchang County, was told that her husband died of “unnatural causes.” Wu Peifen saw her husband’s body at the Nanchang Public Security Bureau Criminal Investigation Brigade: it was covered with more than 60 bruises (see photos), including some on his reproductive organs. The forensic report concluded that the main cause of death was “blunt external force.” On December 10, the Nanchang Public Security Bureau issued a decision that said Wan Jianguo was suspected of using dangerous means to endanger public security, but that the case was dropped in light of Wan’s death.
During the five-and-a-half-hour court session on July 1, the Nanchang Municipal Procuratorate used a large amount of evidence, including photographs, the forensic report, autopsy records, witness testimonies, and voluntary statements by the defendants, to prove the charges in its indictment: that, on August 7-8, 2008, Wan Jianguo was tortured to death by brutal methods, including suspending him by his hands, which were tied behind his back, beatings with electric batons and wooden bats, and smashing his head against a wall and against a steel railing in order to extort a confession.
The indictment of the Nanchang Municipal Procuratorate states that, on August 7, 2008, “the defendant Xia Xiangdong [the head of the Criminal Investigation Brigade of the Nanchang Public Security Bureau and the fourth defendant in this] and Xia Hongse, the head of the Major Case Investigation Office of the Criminal Investigation Brigade of the Jiangxi Provincial Public Security Department, were in charge of the specific arrangements for the extortion of confession through torture,” and that during a meeting, Xia Xiangdong instructed that “violence must be used to control violence” to extort a confession. However, Xia Hongse was not charged, and Xia Xiangdong was only charged with “extorting a confession by torture,” which carries a light maximum sentence of three years. During the court hearing on July 1, Xia Xiangdong was asked who should be held responsible for the case, Xia replied that it shouldn’t be him but rather “the organization that handled the case.”
Article 247 of the Chinese Criminal Law stipulates that the use of torture to obtain confession resulting in disability or death is punishable in the same manner as crimes of intentional injury and intentional murder, both of which are punishable by death. Of the nine police officers who were accused of subjecting Wan Jianguo to 17 hours of torture in order to obtain his confession, only four have been indicted. Among them, only one is accused of intentional injury, which is punishable by death. The other three are accused of the lighter crime of using torture to obtain a confession that does not result in disability or death, punishable by a maximum three-year sentence. According to its “Decision Not to Indict,” the Nanchang Municipal Procuratorate did not charge the other five police officers who had confessed to using an electric baton on Wan Jianguo and suspending him in mid-air by the shackles that bound his arms behind his back, because they expressed “remorse.”
Wu Peifen wrote in her blog that, after Wan’s death, the judicial authorities of Jiangxi Province and Nanchang City tried to cover up the police involvement, and concealed what had in fact happened from Wan’s family and the public. Wu has been unable to obtain her husband’s autopsy report, which is classified as a state secret. She wrote, “The leaders of the Jiangxi Provincial Public Security Department and the Nanchang Public Security Bureau kept saying to me, as long as I name my conditions, they would figure out a way to meet them. And later, they used all sorts of ways to force me to cremate my husband’s body before they would make good on their promises to me. I refused.”
During the court session, despite protest by the lawyers representing Wan’s family, the judge allowed defendant Xia Xiangdong to appoint a lawyer, Tang Zhongzan, who once represented Wan’s family in the same case. This is a violation of the Lawyers Law and rules of the legal profession. Article 81 of the Code of Professional Conduct for Lawyers, issued by the All China Lawyers Association, states: “A lawyer who has previously represented one side in a legal affair cannot be engaged by a party who has a conflict of interest with the lawyer’s former client, to handle the same legal affair, even after the dissolution or termination of the lawyer’s relationship with his former client, unless the former client gives written consent.”
On July 2, the court will hear defense arguments and concluding statements by the defendants, and will issue its ruling at or after the end of the court session.
HRIC cautions that this case is just one example of the common use of torture by the police in China today. China has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The recently released National Human Rights Action Plan also explicitly prohibits the extraction of confessions through torture. This type of police action makes a mockery of these serious promises to the international community and the Chinese people. HRIC urges the authorities to take concrete action to eliminate torture, guarantee the rights of those detained, and fulfill its international and domestic legal obligations.
For more information on China’s implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, see: