Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, October 24, 2014

Not guilty until arrested

Keep in mind that the Chinese criminal law system is much more an inquisitorial system than an adversarial one. A person doesn't go on trial until those in power are convinced of the accused's guilt. And, remember, those in power are not always those with legal authority.

Is this rule of law with Chinese characteristics?

Presumed Guilty in China’s War on Corruption, Targets Suffer Abuses
China is in the midst of a scorching campaign against government corruption, one that has netted more than 50 high-ranking officials and tens of thousands of workaday bureaucrats as part of President Xi Jinping’s effort to restore public confidence in the ruling Communist Party. In the first half of this year, prosecutors opened more than 6,000 investigations of party officials, according to government statistics released in July…

But admirers of Mr. Xi’s antigraft blitz largely overlook a key paradox of the campaign, critics say: Waged in the name of law and accountability, the war on corruption often operates beyond the law in a secretive realm of party-run agencies…

In more than a dozen interviews, legal scholars and lawyers who have represented fallen officials said defending them was especially difficult, even by the standards of a judicial system tightly controlled by the party.

The biggest challenge, they say, begins the moment an accused official disappears into the custody of party investigators for a monthslong period during which interrogators seek to extract confessions, sometimes through torture.

Known as shuanggui, it is a secretive, extralegal process that leaves detainees cut off from lawyers, associates and relatives…

Guilty verdicts are rarely in doubt. Of the 8,110 officials who received court verdicts on bribery and graft charges in the first half of this year, 99.8 percent were convicted…

Even as they cheer Mr. Xi’s anticorruption campaign, defense lawyers and advocates of legal reform are raising red flags about the lack of due process for those accused of official wrongdoing. They say without systemic change — chiefly a depoliticized, independent judiciary — the party’s twin goals of rooting out corruption and winning back public trust will ultimately founder.

This week, when hundreds of members of the party’s influential Central Committee meet in the nation’s capital, they will undoubtedly endorse the main item on Mr. Xi’s agenda, “governing the country according to law.”

But most analysts agree that any reform proposals are likely to be incremental, and several lawyers expressed pessimism that party leaders would relinquish the power to engineer the outcome of cases that they believe might threaten their authority or the financial fortunes of kin and cronies…

For all its zealousness, and the growing roster of the fallen, the party’s campaign against graft operates under its own set of mysterious rules.

Given the endemic corruption among Chinese officials and the opacity of the legal system, it remains unclear whether those targeted by party investigators are the most corrupt, or just the ones unlucky enough to have chosen the wrong side in an unseen factional battle…

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