Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Controversy over death of judge in official custody

The following is from Keith Hand, whose permission to re-post here is gratefully acknowledged.

Some of you may be interested in a sad but potentially influential story that is brewing here about the death of a judge in official custody.   In late March, a county court judge from Guilin was detained by the local procuratorate on corruption charges.   He entered the detention facility healthy, but died eleven days later.   According to reports, the family of the judge was initially refused access to the body, but finally got a look and discovered severe injuries that indicated the judge had met a violent end.   After being stonewalled in their efforts to get an explanation from local legal institutions, the family posted a story about the incident on the national web site of the court system.  The story has been picked up by national media, with some articles raising the obvious possibility of a coerced confession/torture.   The family is still waiting for an autopsy, and Guangxi has reportedly established an investigation group to look into the incident.

The case may turn out to be yet another depressing footnote in the ongoing saga of law enforcement abuse in China .   But it bears the hallmarks of a series of incidents in recent years that have generated public outrage and created pressure for reforms in the criminal justice system.  The interesting difference here is that the victim is an official.  That fact seems to be cutting two ways.   On the one hand, the case has attracted the interest of the judiciary.  On the other hand, broader public reaction to the incident appears to be mixed.   The Beijing News published a commentary yesterday in which the author denounced what were characterized as “more than a few” netizen comments along the lines of “Avaricious officials beaten to death – serves them right.” 

Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law scheduled for next year are expected to focus in part on enhanced legal protections against torture.   It will be interesting to keep an eye on how this story develops and whether it strengthens the hand of those arguing for more robust protections. 

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