Chinese investigators given jail terms for torturing party official

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Six Chinese Communist Party officials have been sentenced to between four and 14 years in jail for torturing another official to death, in a case that shed light on the workings of the party's judicial system.

The sentences marked a rare instance of legal punishment handed down over the abuse of a party official detained under the organisation's secretive extra-legal detention process, lawyers for the family of the dead man said on Monday.

A court in the eastern city of Quzhou issued the verdicts on Sept 30, a decision not reported by Chinese media. The trial opened on Sept 17. The six officials were convicted of intentional infliction of harm leading to death over the drowning in April of Mr Yu Qiyi, 42, a chief engineer for a state-owned investment firm in the nearby city of Wenzhou. Mr Yu was dunked repeatedly in a bucket of ice-cold water.

It was not precisely clear why Mr Yu was being investigated, although it was possibly related to a land deal, according to his family's lawyers. Mr Yu spent 38 days under "shuanggui", a form of detention imposed on party officials being investigated for disciplinary violations.

Five officials from the party's corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, were given sentences of four to 14 years, according to a lawyer for one of the accused and lawyers representing Mr Yu's family. The five were Zhang Fangchao, Li Xiang, Cheng Wenjie, Wu Zhiwei and Nan Yu.

Gu Chenfu, from the local prosecutor's office, was sentenced to eight years. The six had faced a maximum penalty of death.

"In reality, they want to control the scope of people who can be targeted for this," said Mr Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer for Yu's family, referring to the trial. "But the fact that members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection can face these kinds of criminal penalties, this is already rare."

"Shuanggui" refers to the time and place at which party members summoned by the commission must appear for questioning. Family members are often kept in the dark, and detentions can last for an indefinite period.

Two other Communist Party officials died while under "shuanggui" between April and June this year, according to lawyers involved in those cases.

Ms Chi Susheng, a lawyer for Li Xiang, called her client's jail term of 10 years unreasonable, adding the accused had appealed. All six men testified that Mr Yu was deprived of sleep and beaten during his extra-judicial detention, according to a defence statement by Ms Chi, who cited testimony from the accused. Her statement was seen by Reuters.

However, they insisted they had treated Mr Yu harshly at the behest of more senior officials in the commission, according to the statement.

"The higher-up officials have not been held accountable. Don't you think this is unfair?" Mr Yu's ex-wife, Ms Wu Qian, told Reuters by telephone from Wenzhou. "We are very dissatisfied that the main culprits have not been brought to justice."