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Uneven Justice in Case of Policemen and Commander Found Guilty in Death of Detained Man

August 17, 2009

On August 12, 2009, a court in Jiangxi Province found three policemen and their commander guilty in connection with the death of a man in police custody.  The four men – policemen Deng Hongfei (邓鸿飞), Guo Songlin (郭松林), Xiong Yu’er (熊玉儿), and their superior, Xia Xiangdong (夏向东), all belonging to the Nanchang Public Security Bureau in Jiangxi Province – were tried on July 1 for their alleged involvement in the death of Wan Jianguo (万建国), who died in August 2008 on his 35th day of detention.

Wan, a sales representative of the Nanchang Medical Company, was detained as a suspect in 2008 in the case of six deaths resulting from injections of immunoglobulin manufactured by Boya Bio-Pharmaceutical Company in Nanchang. At his death, Wan was found to be covered with more than 60 bruises. The forensic report concluded that the main cause of death was “blunt external force.”

The court decision – rare among most court decisions in terms of the details of the case – provides a chilling, graphic account of what happened during the 17 hours before Wan’s death in the morning of August 8, 2008. All three policemen testified during the trial in the Nanchang Intermediate People’s Court that they participated in the second of two shifts of torture, totaling 17 hours, that killed Wan. The torture included beating Wan with electric and wooden batons, suspending him in mid-air with his arms tied behind his back, hanging him upside down, and smashing his head – protected by a motorcycle helmet so that no obvious marks would be left from the impact – against a wall, steel railing, and window casement. The policemen also testified that on August 7, 2008, the day before Wan died, Xia, then head of the criminal investigation brigade of the Nanchang Public Security Bureau, along with Xia Hongse (夏红色), a commander in the Jiangxi Provincial Public Security Department, convened a meeting in which Xia Xiangdong gave them an explicit order to “fight violence with violence” with Wan in order to get him to confess. Xia Xiangdong, however, denied the charges, saying that he only meant to order the policemen to use “psychological provocation.”  

The court convicted policeman Deng Hongfei of “intentional harm” and sentenced him to a 12-year prison sentence. It found Xia, the commander, guilty of “extracting confession through torture” and sentenced him to one year in prison. The court also convicted the other two policemen, Guo Songlin and Xiong Yu’er, of “extracting confession through torture,” but did not impose sentences, in consideration of the “lightness of their crimes and their expressions of remorse.”

The light sentence for Xia and the decision to let two convicted officers walk free raise serious concerns. Article 247 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China 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. In addition, seven other officers involved – Nanchang Public Security Bureau policemen Xia Dong (夏冬), Wu Chuanlong (吴传龙), Li Hui (李辉), Shuai Yi (帅毅), Cai Buti (蔡步提), and Nie Jun (聂军), all of whom participated in either the first or second shift of torture, and Xia Hongse, the Jiangxi provincial police commander who co-convened the meeting during which Xia Xiangdong gave the order to use violence – were not prosecuted. According to an informed source, during that meeting, Xia Hongse said to the policemen that they could “beat him after hanging him, and hang him after beating him.”

“That Xia, the commander, claimed he only ordered ‘psychological provocation’ and not torture reflects a dangerous lack of understanding among the Chinese police and courts regarding what constitutes torture under international human rights law, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which China ratified,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. “By not prosecuting the other six policemen who also participated in perpetrating these acts of torture and one other commander who was present when the order to use torture was given, the authorities are sending a message that one just may get away with torture.”

In the UN Committee against Torture’s 2008 report on China’s compliance with its international treaty obligations to end torture, the Committee stated that it remained “deeply concerned about the routine and widespread use of torture and ill treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings.” The Committee recommended that China “take immediate steps to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment throughout the country.” 

The court decision did not explain how Wan became a suspect in the 2008 case of deaths resulting from injections of immunoglobulin and did not provide information on what transpired between July 5, 2008, when Wan was first detained, and August 7, 2008, just before he was tortured.

Wan’s wife, Wu Peifen (吴佩奋), feels that justice has not been served by the court. On August 17, 2009, she filed a formal request to the Nanchang People’s Procuratorate to appeal the court decision. She told HRIC that she believes the men tried should have been convicted of intentional killing – homicide – and that their sentences should be commensurate with their crimes. She also vows to work toward bringing the other police officers to justice. “I want to use this case to shed light on the rampant use of torture by the police. I don’t want Wan Jianguo to have died in vain,” she said.

Wu also told HRIC that through various informal channels, the Nanchang Public Security Bureau had attempted to silence her by offering her three million yuan. She declined, and has filed for monetary compensation under the law.

For further details on Wan Jianguo’s case, see:

For more information on the Committee against Torture review of China, see: