Six Communist Party investigators are expected to stand in a rare trial in Zhejiang province over the death of a senior executive at a state-owned firm who was allegedly tortured during a disciplinary probe earlier.
The suspects were arrested and charged with intentional assault relating to the unexplained death of Yu Qiyi, a 42-year-old chief engineer of the state-owned Wenzhou Industry Investment, who died on April 9 in a hospital after he was detained for 38 days on suspicion of bribery.
The suspects include five employees of the local Discipline Inspection Commission in Wenzhou and an officer seconded from the local prosecutor's office. The prosecutor has accused them of torturing Yu by repeatedly putting his head into a bucket of iced water during questioning, according to a copy of the indictment obtained by the South China Morning Post.
"The method of torture was extreme, and the investigators had no right to treat their fellow comrade this way," said Si Weijiang , a Shanghai-based humans rights lawyer hired by Yu's family. Si said the trial could start as early as next week.
The discipline inspection units, which investigate corruption and other offences by party members, can hold suspects indefinitely under shuanggui, a system of detention and interrogation outside the regular legal system. It is rare for investigators to be charged over inappropriate behaviour on the job.
Yu's widow said she saw her husband alive at Beijing Capital International Airport on March 1, when he saw her off on a flight home to Wenzhou. Days later, she received a phone call from his company to say that Yu had been detained for suspected "discipline violations".
Yu is among a number of junior-level officials who have reportedly endured violent treatment under investigation. His death has raised public concerns about the secretive operations of the discipline investigators, especially as the top leadership cracks down on official corruption.
Jia Jiuxiang , a court official in Henan province, died on April 23 after 11 days in custody. His family and lawyers said there were bruises on his body, despite an official report saying the 49-year-old died of a heart attack.
In June, Qian Guoliang , director of a county seismological bureau in Hubei , died in hospital after suffering convulsions. He had been held for 56 days before his death.
Pu Zhiqiang , another lawyer who has been helping the victims' families in all three cases, said it was common practice for authorities to refuse demands to see interrogation videos. Prosecutors also refuse to share trial documents.
Yu's widow, Wu Qian, welcomed the trial but said the indictment did not address the cause of bruises that covered Yu's body, and she suspected more inspectors were involved than the six charged. Her family was consulted before the charges were filed, Wu said.
Some 160,000 cadres were punished by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection last year, party officials said in January.