China's Police-Run Detention Centers Are a 'Human Rights Disaster': Rights Lawyers

2017-06-20
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Li Aijie, wife of detained Chinese rights lawyer Zhang Haitao, says she wanted to travel to Shaya Prison in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, but was told that prison officials called off her visit in June. She appears here with her son in an undated photo.
Li Aijie, wife of detained Chinese rights lawyer Zhang Haitao, says she wanted to travel to Shaya Prison in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, but was told that prison officials called off her visit in June. She appears here with her son in an undated photo.
RFA

Recent proposals to reform China's police-run detention centers are unlikely to do much to address a nationwide "human rights disaster" for police suspects in detention, human rights lawyers told RFA.

The country's Ministry of Public Security issued a call for consultation this week on a replacement for its Detention Center Law, saying the legislation lags behind in term of human rights protection, and that the ministry wishes to update it to "ensure the legitimate rights and interests of detainees."

Prominent human rights lawyer Wen Donghai said human rights abuses are rife within the police detention system.

"This form of detention has taken the form of a widespread disaster for human rights," Wen said. "Prosecution authorities, rather than solving the problem, often try to cover it up instead."

"The police are both investigators and jailors, which means that they will often resort to methods such as forcing a confession through torture," he said.

"The best plan in the current system would be to separate the detention system from the police, but the ministry of public security wants to control all of it," he said.

Wen said the consultation process meant little if any new laws weren't properly enforced.

"It is very unlikely to be able to take an even-handed view when making such a law, which will become embroiled in all kinds of ministerial considerations," he said.

Meanwhile, rights attorney Yu Wensheng, whose lawyer client Wang Quangzhang has been held incommunicado in police detention for nearly two years, said he is very angry at the widespread lack of respect for human rights in the police detention system.

"Actually, respect for human rights is in itself a constitutional right, so we don't need it to be written specifically into a detention center law," Yu said.

He said no law in China has much effect in cases that are regarded as political.

"The detention centers pay no heed whatsoever to any laws when it comes to political cases, not even the criminal procedure law," Yu said.

"So how will a detention center law make any difference to them? I think this is just for cosmetic effect," he said.

Denied access to attorneys

Human rights lawyers detained on subversion charges since a nationwide police operation launched in July 2015 have routinely been denied access to attorneys hired by their families and have been assigned government lawyers instead.

Many, including Wang Quangzhang and Jiang Tianyong, are being held in an unknown location under police detention with no access to family visits.

Detained Xinjiang rights activist Zhang Haitao has been denied the right to receive or send mail to his family while being held in the relatively isolated Shaya Prison in the northwestern region.

Zhang's wife Li Aijie said he has also been prevented from appealing his 19-year prison sentence on subversion and spying charges in January 2016.

Sichuan-based activist Huang Xiaomin said detainees and prison inmates should be permitted to send and receive mail according to existing laws.

"According to the detention center law, and the prison management law, regardless of the circumstances of the case, prisoners and suspects should be allowed to send and receive mail in a free and normal manner," Huang said.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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