Furthermore, in a widely circulated recent essay, the vice president of the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China, Jiang Bixin (江必新), said that the government must act within the law if it is to survive.
“Only with constraints on public power can the rights and freedoms of citizens be securely realized,” he wrote.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) has not yet weighed in on the issue, but reform advocates are encouraged by a speech he gave this month talking up the widely ignored protections afforded by the Chinese constitution, which include freedom from unlawful detention and the right to an open trial.
“We must establish mechanisms to restrain and supervise power,” Xi said.
Until now, China’s powerful security establishment has staved off any erosion of its authority, warning of calamity if the police lose their ability to detain perceived troublemakers without the interference of judges or defense lawyers.
The Chinese Ministry of Public Security has other reasons to preserve the “status quo.” The system, which employs tens of thousands of people, is a gold mine for local authorities, who earn money from the goods produced by detainees.
Officials also covet bribes offered to reduce sentences and the payments families make to ensure a loved one is properly fed while in custody, critics say.
Zhou Yongkang (周永康), who retired last month as the Chinese chief of domestic security, was known to scare senior leaders with the specter of social chaos — and the CCP’s loss of power — if the extralegal penal system were abolished.
“Zhou Yongkang knew how to put on a good show,” said He Weifang, a Peking University law professor who has waged a decade-long campaign against the security system.
He and other legal experts say they were encouraged after party leaders downgraded Zhou’s law-and-order responsibilities, moving them to the CCP’s 25-seat Central Politburo from the more influential Politburo Standing Committee.
The change underscores the communist leadership’s increasing wariness of China’s internal security machine, which grew by leaps and bounds over a decade under Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) campaign for “social stability.” The annual US$110 billion security budget now exceeds China’s military spending.
“There’s a sense that things have gotten out of control, that when there’s an intraparty struggle, even the most powerful official can be disappeared,” said Sharon Hom, the executive director of the non-governmental organization Human Rights in China. “No one is immune from a lawless state.”
Guo Xuehong (郭雪紅), a former judge from Jilin Province in the northeast, has firsthand experience with extralegal justice. Guo, 47, was given a one-year sentence after protesting his dismissal — a result of refusing to back down from his ruling against a politically connected company, he said. His ruling harmed the local economy, party officials determined.
In an interview, Guo complained that those ensnared have no ability to mount a defense and little chance of appealing their sentences, given that they are reviewed by the same agency that metes out summary convictions.
“The system is just a tool for officials to get rid of us troublemakers,” Guo said.