He was starved, pummeled and interrogated for days on end in an ice-cold room where sleeping, sitting or even leaning against a wall were forbidden. One beating left Wang Guanglong, a midlevel official from China’s Fujian Province, partly deaf, according to his later testimony. Suicide, he told relatives and his lawyers afterward, tempted him.
In the end, he said, he took a deal: He signed a confession acknowledging he had accepted $27,000 in bribes, wrongly believing he would be released on bail and able to clear his name of a crime he says he did not commit.
“He did what they told him to do in order to save his own life,” his sister, Wang Xiuyun, said in an interview.
China is in the midst of a scorching campaign against government corruption, one that has netted more than 50 high-ranking officials and tens of thousands of workaday bureaucrats as part of President Xi Jinping’s effort to restore public confidence in the ruling Communist Party. In the first half of this year, prosecutors opened more than 6,000 investigations of party officials, according to government statistics released in July.
And China’s leaders vow that their cleanout has just begun.
But admirers of Mr. Xi’s antigraft blitz largely overlook a key paradox of the campaign, critics say: Waged in the name of law and accountability, the war on corruption often operates beyond the law in a secretive realm of party-run agencies, like the one that snared Mr. Wang, plagued by their own abuses and hazards.
In more than a dozen interviews, legal scholars and lawyers who have represented fallen officials said defending them was especially difficult, even by the standards of a judicial system tightly controlled by the party.
The biggest challenge, they say, begins the moment an accused official disappears into the custody of party investigators for a monthslong period during which interrogators seek to extract confessions, sometimes through torture.
Known as shuanggui, it is a secretive, extralegal process that leaves detainees cut off from lawyers, associates and relatives. “It deprives citizens of their fundamental rights,” said Mao Lixin, a lawyer who represented Mr. Wang.