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Interpol president Meng Hongwei vanishes in China

INTERPOL President Meng Hongwei speaking on the opening day of Web Summit, Lisbon, Portugal, 7 November 2017
INTERPOL President Meng Hongwei speaking on the opening day of Web Summit, Lisbon, Portugal, 7 November 2017

Web Summit/flickr

This article was originally published on on 8 October 2018. 

Almost two weeks after he mysteriously vanished on a trip home to China, Beijing authorities have finally confirmed that they have detained Meng Hongwei, the president of Interpol, the international police organization, and China's vice-minister for public security. After days of speculation as to his whereabouts and well-being, this weekend Chinese authorities issued a terse statement acknowledging Meng's detention, without disclosing his location, and stating he is being investigated for corruption.

This means it's highly likely that Meng has been subjected to “liuzhi,” a form of secret detention effectively controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Under liuzhi, detainees are held incommunicado – without access to lawyers or families – for up to six months.

Little is known about the treatment of detainees during liuzhi, because the program and the government agency running it, the National Supervision Commission, are new. In March this year the commission absorbed existing graft-fighting powers vested in other government departments, and was empowered to investigate anyone exercising public authority. It shares space and personnel with the Party's disciplinary agency, the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI).

But we do know what happened during “shuanggui” – a secret detention system that the CCDI used against party members – which liuzhi replaces. A 2016 Human Rights Watch report lifted the lid on the horrors detainees faced, including arbitrary and long-term incommunicado detention, solitary confinement, and torture. A former detainee told us, “If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well. My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus.”

In its effort to give liuzhi a veneer of legality that shuanggui lacked, authorities say interrogations will be videotaped and families notified within 24 hours, among other reforms. But so far, the signs are not promising: in May, a 45-year-old man reportedly died after 26 days in liuzhi, his body covered in bruises.

What's next for Meng Hongwei? The formula is simple: like others forcibly disappeared before him, including human rights activists mistreated in custody by Meng's public security ministry, he faces detention until he confesses under duress, an unfair trial, and then harsh imprisonment, possibly for many years. While Meng's whereabouts remain elusive, his fate is not.

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