Beijing (AsiaNews) - Six Communist Party officials went on trial on Tuesday on charges of torturing a man to death during an internal investigation, bringing out into the open the practice of shuanggui, a form of extra-legal detention imposed on party officials under investigation for disciplinary violations.
The practice has come under fire from human rights activists, lawyers and even party members. For many, this trial is turning point that will show whether or not China becomes a country governed by "the rule of law".
The accused include a local prosecutor and five officials from the party's dreaded corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which has sweeping powers to detain indefinitely and question any official suspected of wrongdoing.
Bo Xilai, disgraced former Communist party boss of Chongqing, has been detained by the commission for 17 months before he was brought to trial. The verdict in his case is expected in a few days, but there is already talk of an appeal.
In the trial that opened yesterday, however, the accused could face the death penalty. According to the prosecution, the six officials drowned Qiyi Yu, 42, chief engineer at a state firm in Wenzhou.
Yu remained in the hands of his persecutors for 38 days, his family was not informed of his arrest and no court validated the Commission's decisions.
He died during an interrogation, during which the accused took turns to dunk him in a bucket of ice-cold water to extract a confession.
According to the indictment, he was tortured, a common method of interrogation in modern China.
Although the government declared it illegal in 1996 and has signed international conventions against its use in prisons, NGOs and human rights activists have shown that it never disappeared.
Indeed, according to the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, torture is still widespread in China.
"I believe that these egregious cases in which officials who have been under 'shuanggui' have died rarely enter the judicial process," said Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer representing Yu's family.
"We think this (Yu's case) is a real tool to measure whether China wants to become a country ruled by law," said Si Weijiang, a second lawyer for the family.