Deadly impact of China's anti-graft campaign

Deadly impact of China's anti-graft campaign

Suicides by three Chinese officials in three days last week have cast the spotlight on the psychological impact of China's anti-graft campaign and the level of care and help available for depressed officials.

On Monday last week, senior Chongqing police officer Zhou Yu, a key figure in former provincial boss Bo Xilai's anti-triad campaign in the south-western city, was found hanged in a hotel room.

The next day, Mr Xu Ye'an, deputy director of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, which handles petitions on injustices or disputes such as illegal land grabs, was found hanged in his office.

On Wednesday, Mr He Gaobo, deputy director of the construction management office in Zhejiang province's Fenghua city, reportedly was found hanged from a tree on a hill in the city.

The three are among 23 officials who have taken their lives since Jan 1 last year - the most senior being China Railway Group president Bai Zhongren, who died last January - according to the China Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party's youth wing.

The suicides have been mostly explained away with reasons such as depression or poor health, which has only fuelled speculation that the officials chose death to cover up misdeeds amid an unrelenting anti-graft campaign under President Xi Jinping.

"Talk of cover-ups is not baseless given the lack of transparency over their deaths and also the factors suggesting reasons other than health problems," said anti-graft expert Ren Jianming.

For instance, Mr He died after a building in Zhejiang collapsed on April 4, killing one and injuring six, while Mr Xu's workplace is described as one of the most corrupt government agencies, allegedly taking bribes from provincial governments to quash complaints from citizens.

That some of the suicides occurred at the officials' workplaces also lends weight to suspicions of cover-ups. Analysts say the choice of venue was made to stage final protests of innocence.

Professor Ren, of Beihang University, said that as the anti-corruption campaign intensifies without significant improvement in the problem, the trend of officials committing suicide to avoid investigation is likely to continue in the short term.

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