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Rape case sparks calls for reformSurveillance footage of alleged attack by former police assistant triggers calls to end para-policeSally Wang14 November 2011A rape case - which has become a national talking point after surveillance footage was released that appears to show a former police assistant beating and raping a storeowner in Shenzhen - has triggered calls for the prompt abolishment of the notorious police-assistant system.The alleged assailant, Yang Xili, was arrested and charged with raping the owner of a home-appliance repair shop in Shenzhen’s Baoan district for an hour, before the victim’s husband called police on October 23.The footage, which shows the victim being beaten and abused, started circulating online last week, and the husband, who was so scared that he hid in a room inside the store, has been ridiculed for his cowardice.But most media reports have pointed a finger at the police-assistant system, and many questioned why someone such as Yang, who had a criminal record, could have been given a job assisting police in maintaining law and order.Hu Di, vice-director of the Baoan Public Security Bureau, confirmed that Yang had served three years in prison for robbery in 2004 and was recruited as a police assistant after his release. The husband said he did not dare to call the police because Yang said he had many friends in the police station. The assailant, armed with a steel baton, broke into the shop while two other police assistants allegedly helped guard the door.Although the police-assistant squads have tried to distance themselves from Yang by saying he had been dismissed before the attack, the government is under mounting pressure to reform the system.Other details of the case emerged in the days following the incident. A police investigation found that Yang had been classmate of the husband, and that Yang had previously threatened to rape the victim.The victim told police that she had been raped by him before.The victim’s neighbours said they had long detested police assistants, and that Yang had bullied the victim’s husband in the past.Zhu Woming, the owner of a convenience store near the husband’s repair store, said he had told the husband “many times that Yang Xili was not a good man, and warned [the husband] not to have anything do to with him”.Zhu said that Yang came to the neighbourhood several times in the past month to ask the husband to have drinks with him, and Yang threatened to beat the man if he refused. Zhu also said Yang appeared very intimidating, with large tattoos on his arms and back.One small-business owner, who declined to be named, spoke out against the police assistants, saying: “The community would be much safer without them. They are like bandits. They don’t patrol at all, and they always bully the honest people.”However, Zhu and another storeowner said the police assistants had not bullied them or asked them for money.The police-assistant system is supposedly meant to complement local police, but Shenzhen police said there was no official relationship between the two forces.“I don’t know who is in charge of the police assistants,” Zhou Baojun, a spokesman for the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau, told the South China Morning Post.Liu Li, vice section chief of the Baoan politics and law committee, said the police were responsible for the “professional guidance of the police assistants” and that the police assistants were responsible for “patrolling the neighbourhoods and assisting the police in maintaining public security”.A police assistant in the Jingbei community, who declined to reveal his name, said there were about 70 police assistants there.“There are no requirements for recruitment,” he said.
Liu said the problem was the result of the entry level pay and the management of the police assistants. “The average salary of a police assistant is just more than 1,000 yuan (HK$1,220), around the city’s minimum wage [per month],” he said. “It is hard to recruit and manage police assistants with this salary level.”It is not the first time calls have been made to end the system.“To abolish the police-assistant teams will be a blessing for Dongguan,” Guangdong lawmaker Zheng Xiaoqiong said last year after crimes were reportedly committed by Dongguan police assistants.The central government has asked local governments to gradually phase out police assistants since 2004, but progress has been slow.After the shopowner was raped in Shenzhen, Guangzhou said it would expand auxiliary police and would not set up new police-assistant squads. Guangzhou media said there were more than 100,000 police assistants and neighbourhood watch members in Guangzhou alone.Professor Zhang Guoqing, who teaches public administration for Peking University’s School of Government, said the police-assistant teams were created in the 1960s.“The members usually worked part time and received no salary,” he said, adding that the system had helped maintain social order.Professor Gu Xiaojin, who teaches mass communications at Shenzhen University, said: “People have no idea what the limits of their rights are, or about the regulations that govern the police assistants.”
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