China's Corrupt Police

Despite their position as one of the crucial foundations of the Chinese communist state, the country's citizens are growing increasingly fed up with widespread corruption and lack of accountability, perhaps no better exemplified by the police chief of Shaoguan, in Guangdong province.

Ye Shuyang, a former butcher, required officers at district stations to prepare sharp knives and live pigs for him, according to media reports. Ye Shuyang didn't kill them at once, but slowly, enjoying the pain he inflicted on the animals.

Nor was inflicting pain on helpless animals was his only vice. Late last year Ye was arrested for having embezzled 30 million yuan in illegal income, much of it spent on luxury villas for himself and fellow senior police officers.Ye was one of five top Guangdong officers arrested for a variety of offenses, including corruption, selling visas to Hong Kong, taking money from owners of brothels and gambling public money in Macau.

The news of the arrests aroused interest but no surprise among the Chinese public, accustomed to the malfeasance and illegality of their police and powerless to do much about it. Just last week, Wu Xianghu, the editor of a newspaper in Taizhou, died of complications from being attacked by 50 policemen last October after his paper accused them of charging illegal bicycle fees. China's media have reported a string of such torture and coercion cases by police, largely to no avail.

As in the former Soviet Union and other Communist countries, the police are one of the pillars of the state, an indispensable ally on which, along with the army, the party relies to remain in power. As a reward, the police and army enjoy privileges given to no other groups in society. They are subject to no external scrutiny. The media may only publish stories about them which the police provide: reporters and editors who independently criticize them run a serious risk for their careers and their publications – not to mention physical danger or death.

The story of an unemployed man who murdered six police officers in Shanghai last year provides an extraordinary insight in how the public sees the institution. Born in August 1980 in Beijing and educated up to secondary school, Yang Jia was unemployed. On the evening of October 5, 2007, he was cycling on a street in Shanghai and stopped by police who asked to see his bicycle license. Since he refused to cooperate, Yang was taken to the local police station and questioned about where he had obtained the bicycle. He was beaten, with bruises to his arms and back.

After his release, he was angry about the ill treatment he had received and sent complaints by e-mail and telephone to the station. After further meetings with the police, he demanded 10,000 yuan in compensation. He did not receive it and vowed to take revenge.

On June 26, he returned to Shanghai and purchased a single-bladed knife, anti-drug face mask and tear gas spray equipment. Later he made several petrol bombs. On July 1, the birthday of the Communist Party, he returned to the station where he had been interrogated, let off eight petrol bombs and ran inside: he went on a rampage, stabbing nine officers, of whom six died of their injuries.

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In most countries in the world, such a massacre -- against officers who may have had no connection with his interrogation -- would have provoked outrage. But not in China -- the internet was flooded with messages of sympathy, as if the writers shared his anger against the police but had no means to express it.

As the legal process took its course, this sympathy intensified. On July 3, Yang's mother was detained in a mental hospital in Beijing run by the police. On August 27 -- after the Olympics -- Yang was tried behind closed doors at a one-hour trial, at which no police officer gave evidence. He was sentenced to death for premeditated murder. The sentence was confirmed at an appeal trial, also behind closed doors, on October 20, which concluded that Yang was of sound mind. A group of supporters demonstrated outside the court, with T shirts carrying his portrait and the slogan: "you do not give us an explanation, we give you one!" On November 21, the Supreme People's Court confirmed the verdict.

On November 24, his mother was taken from the mental hospital to Shanghai to see him in prison for 20 minutes. She went to see the trial judge and said she wanted to write material in his defense. He did not answer and she was taken to her home in Beijing.

On the evening of November 25, two judges from Shanghai went to her home and read her the decision of the Supreme People's Court -- the first time she knew that her son's fate was sealed.

Less than 15 hours later, after a breakfast of congee, Yang was executed in Shanghai by lethal injection. Amazingly, within an hour of the news being announced by Xinhua, 90,000 messages of sympathy had been posted on the Internet, with just 70 supporting the execution. The messages were wiped out by the censor. Other sites carried a photo of Yang as a hero in an American action movie, with bulging muscles and holding a supergun.

The messages spoke little about the details of the murders, of which he was evidently guilty, but his motives, the lack of proper legal process and the treatment of his mother. He was deemed a 'hero' in the sense that he had dared to stand up and challenge the police.

The case of Ye Shuyang and his associates was less newsworthy. He had used 100 million yuan in public money to build a luxury office building as the police headquarters in Shaoguan.

"All over China, high officials build luxury villas for themselves," commented the Southern Metropolitan Daily of Guangzhou. "This case (of Ye Shuyang) is the tip of the iceberg. It is a case of collective corruption by high officials and also of low officials who share the spoils. Ye was the most corrupt of them.

"Where did the 30 million yuan come from? Some was from the sale of official posts, some from stealing public money, some from diverting funds allocated for big projects. It needs skill to go from being 'thin' to becoming 'fat'."

It asked how Ye could have stolen money for so long, during a career in government that began in April 1976.

"All the investigators had to do was stand in front of his villa. That was evidence enough. Either he was able to block an investigation or they turned a deaf ear," it said.