China's new leadership has brought in new regulations aimed at abolishing torture and forced confessions in China's judicial system, official media reported.
Beijing's Ministry of Public Security revised its guidelines to encourage courts to uphold human rights protection under the newly amended Criminal Procedure Law, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
"The regulation features a provision that bans coerced confessions and torture in its general principle chapter," the agency said.
China has banned forced confessions before, but is now "reiterating" the ban, it said.
The rules also give further clarification of the rights of suspects in detention, including their right to have contact with lawyers, to have family members informed of measures taken against them, and to receive food, it said.
Attempt at 'distance'
Li Zhuang, a whistleblowing lawyer who was jailed for speaking out against the use of torture to obtain confessions during anti-crime campaigns in southwest China's Chongqing city in 2009, said the new rules were likely an attempt by Beijing to distance itself from the campaigns, run by disgraced former Chinese Communist Party Chongqing municipal chief Bo Xilai and his then police chief Wang Lijun.
"To judge from the wording of the amendments, we can say that its aim is to send a signal that things are going to improve," Li said. "But we will have to see whether police, prosecutors, and judges really will put it into practice."
"Only time will tell," said Li, who has likened the anti-crime campaigns during Bo's rule in Chongqing to the "struggle" campaigns and kangaroo courts of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Li said the definition of what constitutes a forced confession should also be extended to include nonviolent methods of coercion, such as not allowing suspects to go to the bathroom, or depriving them of sleep.
The Communist Party has begun investigating claims of official abuse of power during anti-gang campaigns in Chongqing masterminded by the now ousted Bo.
Li worked on a high-profile anti-gang case in 2009, which like many others at the time won political plaudits for Bo and Wang.
The authorities have offered an amnesty for police officers who elicited forced confessions as part of Bo and Wang's "strike black" campaigns in Chongqing.
Li served 18 months in jail for making allegations that police had tortured his client, Chongqing billionaire and motorcycle magnate Gong Gangmo.
Meanwhile, the wife of jailed pro-democracy activist Zhu Yufu said her husband is unable to get enough nutrition to maintain his failing health in jail in eastern Zhejiang province.
"We have applied a number of times, according to the rules, for him to have additional food every week, but the police have refused every time," said Zhu's wife, surnamed Jiang.
She said that Zhu's health is worsening in jail, and that the authorities have repeatedly refused formal requests for medical parole.
According to Xinhua, the new rules also clarify the range of activities that may be recorded or videotaped for purposes of accountability.
Further rules had been added regarding lawyers' engagement in criminal proceedings, use of evidence, and investigative measures, it said, but gave no specific details.
The revised regulation will take effect on Jan. 1, 2013, along with the amended Criminal Procedural Law, the agency said.
The Party expelled fallen Chinese political star Bo from its ranks in October, following accusations of corruption and sexual misconduct, removing his parliamentary privilege and paving the way for a criminal trial.
Bo was judged to bear "major responsibility" in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, for which his wife Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence on Aug. 20.
Wang was jailed for 15 years in September for "bending the law for selfish ends," "abuse of power," and "defection," after his Feb. 6 visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu brought the scandal to public attention.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.