BEIJING — Chinese prosecutors have indicted six men in the death of a state industry executive who was allegedly dunked in ice water during questioning in a case that points to abuses during internal investigations by the Communist Party.
The indictment, details of which were widely published in Chinese media, describes how 42-year-old Yu Qiyi drowned after having his head repeatedly pushed into a bucket of ice water.
Yu was detained March 1 by agents from the party's corruption watchdog in the eastern province of Zhejiang and died 38 days later after being rushed to a hospital. While under questioning, he was held in a detention center run by the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a body that critics say operates without legal constraints and frequently coerces confessions from those under investigation.
The six men – five investigators from the commission and one local prosecutor – were charged with intentional harming in the Aug. 30 indictment, although Yu's widow Wu Qian said Thursday she believes there is enough evidence to charge them with murder.
"From the start, I'd hoped the case could be resolved under the law and the perpetrators held accountable and severely punished, but sometimes that's hard to do in China," Wu said in a phone interview.
Wu said at the time of his death Yu was emaciated, with bruises on his arms and thighs, dark welts on his buttocks and scrapes on his feet and shins. While that appeared to indicate that he was starved and beaten, the indictment made no mention of other forms of torture besides dunking.
It wasn't clear when the case would go to trial, and a man at the prosecutor's office in the Zhejiang city of Quzhou, where the indictment was issued, said he had no information about the case and refused to transfer the call to other departments. The man refused to give his name, as is common practice among Chinese bureaucrats.
Wu's Shanghai-based lawyer, Wu Pengbin, did not answer calls Thursday.
Well-known Beijing human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has advised on the case, said there was little for Wu's legal team to do but watch the case proceed. He said Yu's death was not an isolated incident, but rather part of an institutionalized culture of torture within the party investigation system.
"The accused believe that they were performing their duties, and as far as I know torture is widely used in interrogation by party disciplinary officials across the country," Pu said. "They had to have authorization from their supervisors for what they did, and it is not fair for only them to get blamed."
Yu's death has drawn attention to the party's feared system of internal investigation under which suspects disappear into detention for weeks or months with little or no notice given to their families.
Defenders of the system say it allows investigators to prevent powerful officials from using their influence to block legal action against them.
Trained as an engineer, Yu did not seem to have that kind of power. A party member since 1998, he had been a rising figure in the state-owned Wenzhou Industry Investment Group and had been seconded to the Cabinet agency in Beijing that oversees China's biggest state-owned companies.
He was picked up by investigators upon arriving home from Beijing on March 1. Wu was never given formal notice of his detention, but learned from private sources that he was suspected of being a middleman in a corrupt land deal that eventually fell through.