Legal reform in China has not stopped torture, says Amnesty

Forced confessions remain a key part of the criminal justice system, rights group says

Torture and forced confessions are still common in China despite judicial reforms, and lawyers who complain about abuse are often detained, Amnesty International said in a report.

President Xi Jinping’s government has introduced numerous legal reforms aimed at improving the rule of law in China. However, it has taken a hard line on human rights and dissent, and human rights defenders and legal activists are regularly rounded up in frequent crackdowns.

The report, No End in Sight, says that reforms of the criminal justice system, which the Beijing government claims are human rights advances, have in reality done little to change the practice of torturing suspects.

"In a system where even lawyers can end up being tortured by the police, what hope can ordinary defendants have?" Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.


Crackdown on dissidents

July saw a sweep of 300 dissident lawyers, feminists and other dissidents, and many are still in jail. “Papering over a justice system that is not independent, where the police remain all-powerful and where there is no recourse when the rights of the defendants are trampled upon will do little to curb the scourge of torture and ill-treatment in China,” wrote Mr Poon. “If the government is serious about improving human rights it must start holding law enforcement agencies to account when they commit abuses.”

Last month, China state TV broadcast the distraught reaction of jailed dissident lawyer Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun as state security agents informed them they have stopped their 16-year old son trying to leave China. Ms Wang and her husband have been detained under a form of solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for months.

Subversion of state

According to state media, they are accused of “subversion of state power”, the same charge used to jail Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and other dissidents.

The report said lawyers across the country feared retribution if they challenged law enforcement authorities. They said that even though new safeguards had been introduced to stop forced confessions, there were flaws in the system that allowed police, prosecutors and others circumvent the new rules.

Legal experts estimate that less than 20 per cent of all criminal defendants have legal representation.

“For the police, obtaining a confession is still the easiest way to secure a conviction. Until lawyers are allowed to do their jobs without fear of reprisals, torture will remain rampant in China,” said Mr Poon.

The report cites former prosecutor Tang Jitian, who told Amnesty he was tortured by local security officials in March 2014 at a secret “black jail” detention facility. “I was strapped to an iron chair, slapped in the face, kicked on my legs and hit so hard over the head with a plastic bottle filled with water that I passed out,” he said.

Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng, released from his latest bout of three years of solitary confinement in August, following nine years of on/off detention, said he was tortured with an electric baton.

China is due to present to the UN's Committee Against Torture in Geneva on November 18th and 19th.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing