Beijing on Monday appeared to stand by a "confession" recorded by its state broadcaster from former detainee Peter Humphrey, who has filed a complaint with the U.K.'s media regulator over the role played in its production by Chinese state television, CCTV.
Humphrey said he has filed a complaint with Ofcom calling on the body to revoke CCTV's U.K. broadcast license and accusing its journalists of colluding with Chinese police to extract his "confession," which was obtained in connection with an investigation into the activities of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in 2014.
In the complaint, he accuses Shanghai police of drugging him and locking him in a chair inside a small metal cage to conduct the confession, with the help of journalists from CCTV and its global arm, CGTN, on Aug. 26, 2013 and again on July 12, 2014.
"In the first instance ... CCTV was represented by one male cameraman and one female interviewer who withheld their names," Humphrey writes.
"I was drugged in my cell with a sedative half an hour beforehand, I was led out in handcuffs, and in an orange prison uniform, I was led into an interrogation cell, placed into a steel cage, and locked into an iron chair commonly referred to in China as a “tiger chair”, with a locking bar across my lap."
He said the journalists pointed their cameras at him and filmed him without his consent, following a period of "immense duress" in a Chinese detention center.
"In the second instance ... I was not handcuffed or caged but was a captive, and was also forced to appear before journalists against my will by the police," the complaint reads. "In both instances, CCTV was present. In the second instance CCTV’s female interviewer led the questioning based on a police script in a very hostile manner."
"Both fake interviews procured under conditions tantamount to torture were broadcast and rebroadcast, by both CCTV and its international arm CGTN, upon orders from the Chinese state and without my consent," the complaint states.
"Neither of these instances qualify as journalism or true media activity. CCTV was working in active collusion with the police and the Chinese state," Humphrey writes.
Power to revoke licenses
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Monday that Humphrey had pleaded guilty and "repented" of his crime.
"China's judicial departments handle cases according to the law, and safeguard the legal rights and interests of foreigners in China," Geng said. "I hope Britain can support and facilitate the reporting work of international media in the U.K.,"
Ofcom, which has the power to revoke broadcasters' licenses that engage in serious breaches of U.K. rules, confirmed it had received a complaint which it was "assessing as a priority."
"If, following investigation, we find our rules have been broken we would take the necessary enforcement action," a spokesman for the regulator said.
Humphrey and his wife, U.S. national Yu Yingzeng, were detained in connection with a corruption case in China involving GSK. They had been hired to investigate a sex tape of the company's then China boss and other issues, shortly before the the company was itself investigated.
Humphrey was sentenced to more than two years in prison by a Shanghai court for breaching privacy laws, but was released seven months early and deported in 2015.
Ofcom is tasked by law to regulate media broadcasters in the U.K. and to uphold the country's broadcasting code.
‘Tools of propaganda’
In January 2012, it revoked the U.K. license of Iranian state broadcaster Press TV after deciding that the London-based license holder did not have proper control over its editorial output.
A month earlier, the network had incurred a £100,000 (U.S.$128,000)fine for broadcasting an interview with a Newsweek journalist deemed to have been conducted under duress.
In April, international rights group RSDL Monitor called on the United States to use sanctions to target Chinese state media organizations that produce and air stage-managed, forced confessions from detainees, often through the use of torture and threats to loved ones.
"China’s televised confessions are routinely forced and extracted through threats, torture, and fear," RSDL Monitor said in a statement at the time. "Police routinely dictate and direct the confessions [and] there is strong evidence that in certain cases they are used as tools of propaganda for both domestic audiences and as part of China’s foreign policy."
"These confessions are made before trial and often even before formal arrest," the group said, adding that "every single interviewee for this study said their interrogators had forced them to confess."
It said the practice deprives suspects of due process by infringing on the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, the right to remain silent, the right not to self-incriminate and the right to be protected against giving a forced confession and torture.
The group identified China Central Television (CCTV), including CCTV1, CCTV4, CGTN and CCTV13 as the main channels responsible for airing video footage of forced confessions, and called for travel bans and asset freezes for top CCTV executives.
Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.