By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. rights experts pressed senior Chinese officials on Tuesday about persistent allegations that torture is rife in their police stations and prisons, especially of political prisoners, and about deaths in custody.
China said it was working to combat torture but that it had not been eliminated.
The United Nations Committee against Torture's examination of Beijing's record, the first since 2008, came after what the group Human Rights in China says has been "a year of massive crackdowns on rights activists and lawyers" on the mainland.
Chinese government officials told the 10 independent experts that their country was working to eliminate torture including through better training of police and prison guards, and audio and video recordings of interrogations.
"Our efforts have produced major progress in our combat against torture," Wu Hailong, China's ambassador who heads its delegation of 39 senior officials, told the UN body, which is also reviewing the records of Hong Kong and Macao.
Illegally obtained evidence and forced self-incrimination of detainees are banned, Wu said, "thus preventing interrogation through torture". He conceded that there was "still a long and arduous path ahead before elimination of torture".
Committee member George Tugushi raised various issues, including the use of "rigid chairs, electric shocks and weightened leg cuffs" on detainees. Sleep deprivation remains lawful and mental torture is not explicitly banned.
"We have received reports that torture is particularly pervasive in black jails," Tugushi said, referring to facilities outside the official prison system.
DEATHS IN CUSTODY
"Please explain the deaths that have occurred in Chinese detention facilities because people were unable to obtain (medical) treatment on time, based on a number of reports the committee has received," Tugushi said.
Wu said at the end of the three-hour session that China would respond to the "frank and even sharp questions" on Wednesday. The committee's conclusions are due on Dec. 9.
Other committee members asked how many Chinese law enforcement officials had been prosecuted for torture, whether victims had access to medical care or compensation, and why so many detainees were held in solitary confinement.
They questioned why China was sending back North Korean refugees to face torture, sexual violence and "forced abortions or infanticide" in their homeland.
The experts suggested China establish an independent monitoring body to investigate torture and questioned the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in prison clinics, including alleged electric shocks.
Felice Gaer, an American expert, said the committee had allegations that seven Chinese activists planning to attend the Geneva review had been threatened and some were detained on charges of "endangering national security".
"How is working with the committee a threat to national security?," she asked.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Dominic Evans)