Torture and other human rights violations are deeply entrenched in China's justice system, and the ruling Chinese Communist Party should abolish inhuman treatment of detainees, free lawyers detained in a recent crackdown, and close down its "black jails," according to the United Nations.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture, which reviewed Beijing's record on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment last month, found that "the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system" in China.
It said recent changes to the law that allow secret detentions for up to six months in cases allegedly involving "terrorism" or "state secrets" are a matter of "grave concern," because they put detainees at a higher risk.
"The Committee ... also expresses concern over information that the majority of allegations of torture and ill-treatment take place during pretrial and extra-legal detention," the report said.
It said Chinese police "wield excessive power during the criminal investigation without effective control," and are also involved in the running of detention centers, creating an incentive for torture in the pursuit of confessions to take place in detention.
Beijing on Thursday rejected the report, calling it biased and "incorrect."
"Our position on opposing torture is firm and consistent and we believe that we will make greater efforts in this regard," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing
'Too many jailed'
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to China and the German embassy issued strongly worded statements critical of the human rights situation in China to coincide with Human Rights Day.
"Throughout the past year, too many Chinese citizens were jailed merely for peacefully expressing their views," Ambassador Max Baucus said in a statement posted to the embassy's website.
Baucus cited the cases of detained human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti as high-profile prisoners of conscience, as did the German embassy, which warned that "serious problems persist with regard to freedom of opinion" in China.
Hua said China's critics are ignoring the bigger picture, and shouldn't interfere in its "judicial sovereignty."
U.S.-based veteran activist Liu Qing said the U.N. report is unlikely to lead to real change in China.
"China isn't going to stop using torture to get forced confessions out of people because the U.N. says it should," Liu said. "The Chinese Communist Party wants to ensure its dictatorship continues, and it needs to use such methods to terrorize and subjugate its subjects."
"The police and the judicial system rely on forced confessions to obtain their so-called evidence, so as to keep up their high conviction rate ... which helps them get promotions," he said.
"The Communist Party relies on police brutality to terrorize the population and keep them obedient."
'Very poor' record
Shanghai-based rights activist Feng Zhenghu, who helps people lodge complaints against government wrongdoing, agreed.
"From the point of view of the victims, we are just trying to protect our rights, because we have to fight for them ourselves," Feng said.
"The rights record is very poor [in China]."
And Beijing-based rights lawyer Ni Yulan, who was left in a wheelchair from torture in police custody, said she and her family have been targeted by police ever since she began campaigning against forced evictions.
"It is hard for us to rent a place to live, because they won't let us, and we live under the constant surveillance of this ... government,"
"Our human rights situation is terrible, and now they have detained so many lawyers since July 9, exactly the people who were helping to protect the rights of their clients."
The U.N. committee said it is "deeply concerned" about the unprecedented crackdown on China's embattled legal profession since July 9.
"This reported crackdown on human rights lawyers follows a series of other reported escalating abuses on lawyers for carrying out their professional responsibilities, particularly on cases involving government accountability and issues such as torture, defence of human rights activists and religious practitioners," it said.
Call for release of prisoners
Meanwhile, the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which collates reports from groups inside China, called for the release of 10 high-profile political prisoners, including Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti and jailed 2010 Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, currently under house arrest,
Other prisoners named include detained rights lawyers Wang Yu and Pu Zhiqiang, anti-graft activist Xu Zhiyong, and Tibetan Tulku Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche.
Independent author Liu Di said Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of Liu Xiaobo's initial detention after he published Charter 08 online, a document calling for sweeping political change in China.
"Actually, he turns 60 this year, and there will be some activities overseas [to mark this], and we would like to thank people overseas for that," she said.
"I have heard from others that Liu Xia is doing OK, and that she is now allowed to leave her home to play badminton," Liu Di said. "She is also allowed to meet with certain people."
"But she hasn't been allowed to meet with [fellow activists]."
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.