Rights group: China use of torture uncurbed by legal reform

AP News
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Posted: Nov 12, 2015 6:07 AM
Rights group: China use of torture uncurbed by legal reform

BEIJING (AP) — His arms were bent behind the chair, his wrists cuffed so tightly his hands swelled.

During 99 days in police detention, Beijing-based lawyer Yu Wensheng was interrogated about 200 times — often late into the night and while in severe pain.

"It was so painful I thought it would be better to die than to live," said Yu, who has represented civil rights activists and was detained last year by Chinese police on a minor public disturbance charge.

The lawyer's case is one example of how China has failed to live up to its obligations to comply with an international convention against torture, as documented by the human rights group Amnesty International in a report released Thursday.

The expose comes just days before a United Nation panel is scheduled to meet in Geneva to review whether China has followed through on its promises to eradicate the use of torture.

While Beijing is expected to tout how it has fulfilled its promises, Amnesty said the country's deep-rooted use of torture to extract confessions from suspects has seen little improvement despite legal reforms introduced since 2010.

The report echoes findings by Human Rights Watch in a May study, with both saying unlawful and inhumane practices remain routine and that reforms have done little to curb them.

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

"For the police, obtaining a confession is still the easiest way to secure a conviction," said Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International.

China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment directly on the report Thursday, although a spokesman said Beijing was committed to ensuring "fairness and justice in every case."

"Extorting a confession by torture is explicitly banned by China's laws. The person who is found exercising torture during interrogation will be subject to punishment," spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular news conference.

While torture is commonly used to force confessions from common criminals, it becomes more brutal against political dissidents, social activists and religious practitioners, said Yu, 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."

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

In April 2014, Zhao Chunguang, a senior public security official overseeing police detention facilities, said there had not been a single case of coercing confessions through torture following new rules aimed at preventing the use of torture.

The public security and justice ministries did not respond to faxed questions about the use of torture.

In the report, Amnesty said forms of torture include beatings, long periods of restraining the 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 told The Associated Press in September that he was deprived of sleep when he was locked up in a detention center in Beijing. Liu 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 U.N. Committee Against Torture.