South China Morning Post, Oct 3, 2010

Chongqing execution raises political spectre


The execution last Sunday of Fan Qihang for murder, despite credible claims that he was tortured to confess, has raised concerns that a crackdown on alleged gang activities in Chongqing is a political campaign.

It has also raised questions about the central government's commitment to implementing new regulations discouraging the police's use of torture to extract confessions.

A Chongqing construction entrepreneur, the 40-year-old Fan was accused of being a crime syndicate boss and of ordering the murder of Li Minghang, an alleged member of a drug gang. 

Fan's lawyer Zhu Mingyong daringly made public a video recording of Fan claiming he was tortured into making a confession. Zhu could not be contacted - lawyer friends say he is in hiding and very depressed about the execution of his client, who he felt was innocent of murder. Zhu has reason to worry. Li Zhuang , who represented Fan's co-defendant, Gong Gangmo , was imprisoned and banned from practising law for life over claims that he advised his client to make false claims of torture. 

Fan's case was the first to test new regulations announced on June 1 that ordered that confessions obtained through torture should be excluded from trials. Torture is already illegal under mainland law, but its use is said to be widely employed by mainland law enforcement agencies.

'I am deeply disappointed in the [Supreme People's Court's] failure to apply its own rules against admitting coerced confessions, missing a golden opportunity to show that legal norms matter,' Jerome Cohen, co-director of New York University School of Law's US-Asia Law Institute, said.

Teng Biao, a prominent human rights lawyer, said that in rejecting Fan's appeal for a retrial, the supreme court completely ignored the charges of torture. 

'The two regulations were an excellent opportunity to show that these new rules had teeth,' Teng said. 'But Fan's execution tells everyone these regulations are useless.'

The massive crackdown - or 'strike black' campaign - on alleged organised crime in Chongqing has resulted in the arrest of more than 3,600 people and the issuing of 65 death sentences, some of which have been suspended. 

Cohen said that while the SPC and central law enforcement agencies were drawing up new guidelines to exclude confessions obtained in violation of the nation's long-standing prohibition against torture, Chongqing police were actually carrying out 'a systematic and lengthy torture programme that coerced suspects caught up in the campaign against 'gangsters' to confess even to crimes they may not have committed'. 

'[Chongqing party chief] Bo Xilai's political power is greater than that of the court,' Teng said. 'If the court has to choose between political authority and an accused person, it will choose the political authority. 

'The new regulations could not overcome the political considerations involved ... The strike black campaign has become a political movement and not a legal one.'

I am deeply disappointed in the SPC's failure to apply its own rules against admitting coerced confessions, missing a golden opportunity to show legal.