South China Morning Post (SCMP): Law and Disorder

05/26/2003

Cases of police brutality and corruption occur so frequently on the mainland that many rights activists are convinced such behaviour is favoured by government and party authorities. In any given week, startling cases abound. Last week, for example, in Yueyang in Hunan province, several policemen walked into a privately owned hotel to use the toilet facilities. The receptionist and co-owner, Xu Xiping, quipped that the officers should pay something as the water charges were expensive. Li Zhongliang, deputy-director of the local police bureau, was angered by her comment and slapped a coin on the counter, despite her protestations that she had only been joking.

Fifteen minutes after the men left, a police car screeched to a halt outside the hotel and a group of men brandishing knives and clubs stormed inside. They beat Ms Xu, her daughter and her niece and trashed the lobby. They then grabbed Hu Wenpu, Ms Xu's husband, and hacked off three of his fingers with a knife.

Also last week, a couple who had been working at a university research institute in Shenyang, Liaoning province, were preparing to return to their native Shanxi. Zhao Jigang and his pregnant wife, Zhao Xiaoyi, went about selling off their few possessions before they left, including a bicycle. When a group of policemen encountered them, they assumed the couple had stolen the bike: No evidence, no due process, just violence. They set upon the pair on the street, leaving Zhao Jigang with a broken arm and his wife with a dead foetus.

These incidents are unusual in that they have been reported by the press and the offending officers have been put under investigation. But anecdotal evidence suggests they represent a mere snowflake on the tip of the iceberg. There is widespread acceptance that sectors of the police force are violent and venal, and form alliances with elements of the Communist Party, the judiciary and criminal gangs.

A theory that prevails on the mainland among human rights activists, labour groups and Falun Gong adherents, among others, says that many cadres actually like the way the fear instilled by these arbitrary agents serves to suppress the masses. While officials are happy to publicly condemn police wrongdoing and pay lip-service to clean-up campaigns, some actually welcome the protection that an unpredictable and lawless force affords, they argue. Official efforts to orchestrate a crackdown seem half-hearted, at best. The introduction of an effective system to watch the watchdogs is long overdue.

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