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China's use of torture unchecked by legal reform, says Amnesty

Published 12/11/2015

Chinese journalist Liu Hu outside the detention centre where he was held on the outskirts of Beijing (AP)
Chinese journalist Liu Hu outside the detention centre where he was held on the outskirts of Beijing (AP)

China has failed to live up to its obligations to comply with an international convention against torture, according to a report by Amnesty International.

A United Nations panel is due to meet within days in Geneva to review whether China has followed through on promises against the use of torture, and Beijing is expected to claim it has fulfilled the pledges.

But Amnesty said the country's deep-rooted use of torture to extract confessions from suspects has seen little improvement despite measures introduced since 2010 to reform the legal system.

Amnesty's report echoes the findings of Human Rights Watch in May, saying the unlawful and inhumane practice remains routine in China and that efforts to reform the criminal justice system have done little to curb it.

Amnesty came to the conclusion after interviewing 37 lawyers throughout China, analysing 590 court decisions, and considering judicial rules and procedures.

"For the police, obtaining a confession is still the easiest way to secure a conviction," said Patrick Poon, a researcher with the human rights group.

While torture is commonly used to force confessions from common criminals, it becomes more brutal against political dissidents, social activists and religious practitioners, said Beijing-based lawyer Yu Wensheng, who was released after he confessed to being a troublemaker.

"The practice of torture is commonplace and deeply entrenched," he said. "It fundamentally lies within a political system that has no checks."

For 99 days in police detention, Mr Yu was interrogated about 200 times - often late into the night while he was in pain.

He said his arms were forcibly bent behind the back of a chair, and his wrists were so tightly cuffed that his hands grew swollen.

"It was so painful I thought it would be better to die than to live," said Mr Yu, who has represented civil rights activists and was detained last year by police on the charge of causing troubles.

Despite regular accounts by victims, reports by international human rights groups and exposes in state media, Chinese authorities say the practice is waning or non-existent.

In April last year, Zhao Chunguang, a senior public security official overseeing police detention facilities, said there had not been a single case of coercing confessions through torture at the country's detention centres following the new rules.

Responding to the report by Human Rights Watch in May, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that Chinese law prohibits torture during interrogations and that anyone found responsible would be punished.

Amnesty said forms of torture include beatings, long periods of restraining victims with handcuffs and leg-cuffs, sleep deprivation, withholding food and water, and denial of medical treatment.

In June, Peter Humphrey, a British man convicted of illegally obtaining information and later released on medical grounds and deported from China, told the media that authorities withheld medical treatment for his prostate problems to pressure him to make a televised confession in 2013.

Chinese journalist Liu Hu said in September that he was deprived of sleep when he was locked up in a detention centre in Beijing. He never confessed to any wrongdoing.

In a written statement, Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, urged Beijing to be open about the routine use of torture at the upcoming review by the UN Committee Against Torture.

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