HRW: Police Torture Continues Despite Reforms

Since 2009, several top court and government rulings have sought to nullify evidence obtained through torture and banned police torture. A report from Human Rights Watch analyzes hundreds of newly published court verdicts and interviews dozens of former detainees to show that torture remains a routine interrogation method. From HRW’s press release:

“Despite several years of , police are torturing criminal suspects to get them to confess to crimes and courts are convicting people who confessed under ,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Unless and until suspects have lawyers at interrogations and other basic protections and until police are held accountable for abuse, these new measures are unlikely to eliminate routine torture.”

After cases of police brutality against criminal suspects emerged in 2009 and 2010, causing a major public outcry, the Chinese government announced new measures to curb miscarriage of justice and torture. These included legislative and regulatory reforms, such as prohibitions against using “cell bosses” to manage other detainees, and practical steps such as videotaping some interrogations. In 2012, when the government revised the Criminal Procedure Law, there were hopes that the strengthened procedural protections, including an “exclusionary rule” prohibiting the use of evidence directly obtained through torture, might improve the treatment of ordinary criminal detainees. The Ministry of Public Security, the agency in charge of the police, claims that the use of coerced confessions has dropped significantly in 2012 as a result of the reforms.

While the measures appear to have reduced certain abuses, such as those conducted inside police centers where suspects are held before trial, some police officers deliberately thwart the new protections by taking detainees away from these facilities for interrogations or by using torture methods that leave no visible injuries. Videotaped interrogations are routinely manipulated: for example, rather than recording the full interrogation, some officers take the suspects out of centers to torture them, then take them back into the centers to videotape the confession. Procurators – officers from the agency responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crimes – and judges sometimes ignore clear evidence of mistreatment or fail to examine the claims seriously, rendering the exclusionary rule of little benefit. […] [Source]

Download the entire 145-page report, “Tiger Chairs and Cell Bosses: Police Torture of Criminal Suspects in China,” on ’s website.

Reuters describes one of the many firsthand descriptions of torture contained in the report, and quotes Human Rights Watch’s Maya Wang on her estimation that political prisoners likely face even harsher conditions:

“They handcuffed me and then hung the handcuffs on the windows,” a former detainee based in the central province of Hunan told Human Rights Watch. “I was hung like a dog.”

The report focused only on suspects of non-political crimes, such as robbery and organized crime, said Maya Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“We have to take into account that the torture of political criminal suspects often is worse and the report doesn’t cover Tibet and Xinjiang,” Wang told Reuters, referring to troubled western regions that China keeps on a tight rein. [..] [Source]

At The Globe and Mail, Nathan Vanderklippe relays the story of seasoned lawyer Yu Wenshang, who was subject to intensive interrogation after being detained in Beijing for his support of the 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy movement:

In the 99 days that followed, Mr. Yu was interrogated roughly 200 times, sometimes for 20 hours a day – a treatment that remains routine in China today, which remains plagued with judicial system abuses that continue to exist despite legal reforms, a new report from Human Rights Watch underscored Wednesday.

When the people interrogating Mr. Yu decided he was not cooperating sufficiently, they placed him in a “tiger chair,” an instrument of torture that immobilizes prisoners by lashing down their limbs.

“The chair and the handcuffs were both very sharp. I have no words to describe the feeling. It was beyond what I could bear,” he said, the pain so intense that he cannot remember it clearly. Three times he was placed in the chair; once, his hands swelled to several times their normal size, making them so big it was nearly impossible to release the handcuffs.

[…] “If they could use torture of this kind on a lawyer, it’s impossible for ordinary people to receive real human rights,” he said. […] [Source]

At the New York Times, Andrew Jacobs reports on a 2013 case that shows how torturous investigations can be used to extract confessions from the innocent:

 It did not matter to the police that the man they seized in August 2013 was nearly 20 years older than the one wanted on fraud charges. Nor were the officers bothered by the fact that his cellphone number and a character in his name differed from those of the suspect, or by his repeated professions of innocence.

A week later, after interrogations that involved hanging him by his wrists and beating him into unconsciousness, they got what they wanted from the man, Chen Jianzhong, an illiterate wholesale vegetable dealer from a neighboring province: his fingerprint on a multipage confession they had written for him.

“I was so delirious I barely remember anything,” said Mr. Chen, 51, who spent more than 17 months in jail before he was exonerated and walked out a free man.

With one of the highest conviction rates in the world, prosecutors and the police in China rarely lose a case. […] [Source]

In November, the United Nations Committee Against Torture will review Beijing’s claims that detainee abuse has reduced in recent years.