BEIJING--Amid a purge of allies of ousted Chongqing city boss Bo Xilai, accounts are emerging of brutality and lawlessness during his domination of one of China’s largest metropolises.
Elements of the central leadership of the Chinese Communist Party have moved quickly to rid Chongqing, which has a population of more than 30 million, of Bo’s supporters and put a new administration in place.
Chen Cungen, a standing committee member of the Chongqing committee who played a key role in the Bo administration, was relieved of his post after Bo’s dismissal as secretary of the Chongqing municipal committee.
Also, a secretary of Chongqing's Nanan district said to have been close to Bo has not been heard from, leading to speculation he is being questioned by the authorities.
He Ting, who was vice head of Qinghai province, has been brought in as vice mayor, and top city officials who have kept their posts have pledged to abide by central party directives and distanced themselves from the former city administration.
One individual who has kept his post is Huang Qifan, the Chongqing mayor who once supported Bo. In a March 26 teleconference with top city officials, Huang made comments that pointed to possible illegal acts by Bo.
Meanwhile, lurid accusations about abuses of power under Bo’s leadership are emerging.
Li Zhuang, 50, a former lawyer who lives now in Beijing, said he had been imprisoned and smeared for trying to conduct a legal defense of a client tortured by city officials.
"(Bo) fueled the anger of ordinary citizens by thoroughly setting up his enemies as evil individuals and he ignored the order of law," Li said. "What occurred in Chongqing was nothing less than the Cultural Revolution."
In 2009, Li was arrested by Chongqing municipal police on suspicion of encouraging a defendant to give false testimony. He was found guilty of falsifying evidence and served an 18-month prison sentence.
His arrest was at the height of a campaign to eliminate organized criminal gangs in the city led by Wang Lijun, then vice mayor of Chongqing whose flight to the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in February led to the unraveling of Bo’s regime.
Li was serving as the defense lawyer for a defendant who was described as a gang boss and faced charges of murder and illegally trading weapons. The defendant, who operated motorcycle shops, restaurants and other businesses, said the police tied both his hands to a rope hanging from the ceiling and pulled to a height at which his toes barely touched the top of a table. The defendant was kept in that position for a week and not allowed to use the toilet.
Li said he found bruises all over the defendant's body and concluded the defendant had been forced to confess. He tried to convince the defendant to retract his confession and describe how he had been tortured. Shortly afterward, the Chongqing police arrested him.
He said Wang himself confronted him when he was taken into detention, saying: "I don't know what kind of connections you may have, but you should not think that someone will protect you."
As the date of his court case approached, Li learned that doctored photos appearing to show he had been arrested on prostitution charges were circulating on the Internet.
"Priority was placed on increasing political achievements and the measures used became monstrous," Li said of Bo's administration. "The biggest tragedy facing China as it seeks to employ the rule of law is the lack of a system of oversight over those in authority."
More than 5,000 people are believed to have been taken into custody under Chongqing's anti-organized crime campaigns. This was portrayed as a major feat for Bo as he sought to gain a place on the standing committee of the Communist Party Central Committee Politburo.
During Li's court case, legal experts and human rights activists began to raise doubts about the true situation in Chongqing.
Last September, Tong Zhiwei, a professor at the East China University of Political Science and Law, sent a lengthy document to the central party leadership outlining the alleged abuses.
The document said: "Many business owners were made out to be enemies of the people, who accumulated corrupt funds that led to widening economic disparity, and they were arrested even if there was no evidence."
At least 10 business owners were forced into confessions, resulting in confiscation of their property. Tong said dozens of small businessmen likely suffered a similar fate.
Premier Wen Jiabao appeared to imply a comparison between Bo’s campaigns and the Cultural Revolution in a March 14 attack on conservative elements that said China’s economic transformation could be ruptured without political reform.
A historian in Beijing who was a victim of the Cultural Revolution said: "Wen's comment clearly exposed the division within the party that had not emerged since the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Many citizens feel uneasy about the developments."
However, the writer Zhu Jianguo pointed out that the sudden ousting of Bo could itself be compared to past abuses of power in China.
"If the methods used in the 'dahei' (anti-organized crime) campaign were similar to those of the Cultural Revolution, then the steps used to bring Bo down are also the same," Zhu said. "Without democracy and the rule of law, everything is decided within a black box."
According to party sources, Bo is currently being questioned by the authorities. No details have been released about where Bo is or what charges he faces.
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