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Wave of suicides by Chinese officials indicate impact of Xi’s anti-graft drive

world Updated: Jul 03, 2016 23:33 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention

Liu Xiaohua, a leading official in China's southern manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong province was found dead in an apparent suicide on June 14, 2016, underscoring the extreme pressure some local leaders are under over job stress and an ongoing crackdown on corruption.(AP file photo)

A wave of suicides committed by government officials in China has set off alarm bells in the quiet corridors of power here amid President Xi Jinping’s ongoing anti-corruption drive.

Over 150 officials from different levels of government have committed suicide since 2013, data scattered across Chinese media, including official ones, reveal. 

The broad break-up: 46 in 2013, 54 in 2014 and 30 in 2015. 

The tragic trend till mid-2016 indicates that this year could turn out to be the worst – till Sunday, 28 government officials had committed suicide. 

Most jumped to their deaths from their offices or homes. 

A Beijing-based senior academic said the suicides were being described as an “epidemic” in official circles but declined to comment further. 

An official commentary appearing in the South China Morning Post said “…between 2003 and 2012 – when Hu Jintao was President – at least 68 officials killed themselves. That number was surpassed in the first two years of President Xi Jinping’s administration, with at least 77 officials committing suicide.” 

Experts said it might not always be easy to link the suicides to the anti-graft campaign that has netted officials from all hierarchies. 

The official reason is usually “depression”. 

But many of those who committed suicides were or could have been under the scanner for graft. 

“There could be multiple reasons to commit suicide. Not one. But sometimes, people might kill themselves to save their families from being shamed,” Paul Yip, director of the Hong Kong-based Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, told HT. 

(AP file photo)

Eminent psychiatrist Zhao Guoqiu told ThePaper.cn that the Chinese Criminal Procedure law says a defendant cannot be investigated for criminal responsibility after death. 

“If he was already under investigation, the case should be withdrawn. For that reason, some officials find ending their lives before a prosecution will save his or her whole family and elated people, and the benefits it brings is much more attractive than that of spending the rest of their lives in jail,” Zhao said. 

Intra-party ideological differences within the Communist Party of China (CPC) and officials could be another reason for the deaths. 

Yip said official data released by the government was needed to carry out a full analysis. 

That seems unlikely, with the government having reportedly sent out a directive sometime in 2014 that media houses should not report on “accidental deaths” of officials. 

In a response emailed to HT, the government side-tracked the likelihood of the deaths being linked to the anti-corruption campaign. 

“The integrity of officials, incorruptibility of the government and fairness of politics is the CPC's rigorous requirement to itself, and is also the common expectation for people,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. 

It said the CPC was focused on law-based governance and that the anti-graft campaign was welcomed by the people. 

“Ever since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC has been insisting on promoting law-based governance in all-round ways, strengthening self-discipline of the party, and resolutely punishing corruption. These efforts have been supported and welcomed by the whole party and people of the whole nation,” it added. 

That hasn’t stopped thousands of Chinese citizens from discussing the suicides on Weibo, the country’s Twitter-like micro-blogging platform. 

“Government is expected to give reasonable explanations. We have the right to know the truth and the meaning behind these cases,” said netizen, Tiaozhen Yu Guidaqiang.