Rights lawyers have dismissed recent claims by the ruling Chinese Communist Party that it has improved treatment of prisoners and detainees in its judicial system, saying the country's human rights situation continues to worsen.
Judicial authorities have "put in place a system to exclude unlawful evidence and protect the legitimate rights and interests of criminal suspects," according to a white paper issued on Monday by China's cabinet, the State Council.
It said the police are now operating under new rules governing interrogations, in a bid to safeguard detainees.
"The interrogation rooms of public security organs and detention houses are all equipped with audio and video recording facilities to prevent misconduct in law enforcement such as extorting confessions by torture and obtaining evidence through illegal means," the official Xinhua news agency cited the paper as saying.
The paper comes amid growing concerns for the safety of dozens of human rights lawyers and associates locked up in an unknown location by the Chinese authorities in a crackdown that started in July 2015, without access to their lawyers.
Rights groups say enforced disappearances put suspects at greater risk of torture and other mistreatment, while threats against family members may be used to elicit videotaped "confessions," as in the case of veteran political journalist Gao Yu.
Chinese rights lawyers told RFA that the white paper takes no account of the realities of the country's law enforcement practices.
"Everything in this document is fake," Beijing-based rights lawyer Chen Jiangang said in an interview after the white paper was published. "The [detention of rights lawyers] since July 9, 2015 has been huge and widespread, and has involved their partners and children in a human rights tragedy."
"That took place in China, and everything in this paper is a lie."
Simply follow the constitution
Chen said all the authorities need to do to protect human rights in the judicial system is to implement the country's constitutional protections fully.
"The Criminal Procedure Law allows for the right to see a lawyer ... and the right to exchange letters with family members, but not one of the people detained in the July 9, 2015 crackdown has had their rights protected in this way," he said.
Fellow Beijing rights lawyer Liang Xiaojun said the white paper is likely aimed at soothing growing public concern over the violation of the rights of individuals by law enforcement agencies.
"I think this is targeted at a number of academics, lawyers and journalists who have begun to gradually realize in recent years that the human rights situation is continuing to worsen," Liang said.
"They are probably trying to refute this view by issuing a white paper saying that human rights protection is doing well [in China]," he said.
The white paper also claimed that China only employs the death penalty under "very strict" circumstances, Xinhua said.
"China's attitude toward the death penalty is to ensure that it applies only to a very small number of extremely serious criminal offenders," it said.
Closely guarded secret
According to London-based rights group Amnesty International, China likely executes thousands of people annually, more than the rest of the world put together, although the number of recent executions have remained a closely guarded secret.
"In death penalty cases, the defendant's right to defense and other legitimate rights and interests are fully protected, as hearings are held for all death penalty cases of second instance," the white paper said.
Rights lawyer Li Guisheng said there is still widespread public support for the death penalty in China, however.
"There aren't very many people who support it in the cities, but in the countryside a lot of people see it as a form of reparation, a life for a life," Li said.
He said suspended death sentences and life sentences still aren't seen as enough to fulfill this principle.
"In the case of a suspended death sentence, most people don't end up getting executed during the two-year suspension period," Li said.
"Instead, it's commuted to life imprisonment, which in turn later gets commuted to a shorter jail term after some time has been served."
Rights lawyer Sui Muqing said the lack of judicial independence lies at the heart of many rights abuses in China.
"First and foremost, the judiciary must operate independently," Sui said. "China has never managed to make that happen."
"And that means that the executive is always above the law."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Goh Fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.