Measures introduced by China over the past six years to curb torture and mistreatment of criminal detainees have not done enough to reduce abuses, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday in report that urged more systemic changes.
HRW said measures introduced in 2009 after a popular outcry over particularly egregious cases of police brutality are positive but “they are being grafted onto a criminal justice system that still affords the police enormous power over the judiciary and offers police numerous opportunities to abuse suspects.”
“Absent more fundamental reforms in the Chinese criminal justice system that empower defense lawyers, the judiciary, and independent monitors, the elimination of routine torture and ill-treatment is unlikely,” said the HRW report.
The report, titled “Tiger Chairs and Cell Bosses” to describe restraining racks and favored prisoners who mistreat cellmates on behalf of police, studied all of the roughly 158,000 verdicts published on the website of Supreme People’s Court (SPC) between January 1 and April 30, 2014, the first year the court published verdicts.
HRW identified 432 verdicts in which suspects alleged torture, and found only 23 resulted in evidence being thrown out by the court because it was tainted by torture. In none of the 23 cases was the defendant acquitted, it said.
The group also discussed the court data in interviews with 48 recent detainees, family members, lawyers, and former officials.
“The detainees and defense lawyers we spoke with said that some police officers deliberately thwart the new protections by taking detainees from official detention facilities or use torture methods that leave no visible injuries,” the report said.
“In other cases, procurators and judges ignore clear evidence of mistreatment, rendering China’s new ‘exclusionary rule’ -- which prohibits the use of evidence directly obtained through torture—of no help,” HRW added.
Also permitting torture-derived confessions to continue despite the court reforms were practices or policies that do not permit lawyers to be present during interrogations and do not suspects the right to remain silent.
“Procurators and judges rarely question or challenge police conduct, and internal oversight mechanisms remain weak,” it said.
HRW said the research for the 145-page report focused on ordinary criminal suspects in custody, not political prisoners, but that “the torture and ill-treatment of those detained for political reasons remains a severe problem.”
“Political prisoners such as Gao Zhisheng, Guo Feixiong, Hada, Cao Shunli, and countless others have suffered repeated torture and other abuses at the hands of police and cell bosses under police control to punish them for their activism and to deter others from challenging the state. They have experienced much of what is described in this report and often worse,” it said.
HRW said that China’s periodic review before the U.N. Committee against Torture in November would give China a chance to show it was implementing the new laws and improving the system to end torture and ill-treatment of detainees.
“Failure to do so will raise larger questions about the government’s willingness to bring reforms to improve public confidence in the country’s judicial system,” it said.
Written by Paul Eckert.