17 September 2019
Detained petitioners stand behind bars at an illegal detention center, known as a 'black jail', in Beijing. Photo: Human Rights Watch
Detained petitioners stand behind bars at an illegal detention center, known as a 'black jail', in Beijing. Photo: Human Rights Watch

Torture still routine in Chinese jails, report says

Torture is still routine in Chinese jails, the Guardian reported Wednesday, citing a report by Human Rights Watch.

Police flout regulations and courts ignore rules designed to exclude evidence and confessions obtained by mistreatment, the non-governmental advocacy group said.

Detainees, their relatives and lawyers said prisoners are beaten and electrocuted with batons, deprived of sleep, shackled in painful positions and hung from their wrists, it reported.

Some have been sprayed with chilli oil in sensitive areas, deprived of sleep and water, starved and frozen, says the study, Tiger Chairs and Cell Bosses: Police Torture of Criminal Suspects in China.

It is based on hundreds of newly published court verdicts from around the country and interviews with nearly 50 people on all sides of the justice system – prisoners, their relatives and lawyers, prosecutors and other officials.

“Torture to extract confession has become an unspoken rule; it is very common,” one former police officer from Heilongjiang province told Human Rights Watch in February last year.

The report also included several accounts of mistreatment, including shackling to “tiger chairs”, which are used to keep detainees immobile for days at a time.

“I sat on an iron chair all day, morning and night, my hands and legs were buckled,” one woman held this way for weeks told the group.

“During the day I could nap on the chair, but when the cadres came, they scolded the police for letting me doze off … I sat until my buttocks bled.”

After several high-profile cases of police brutality in 2009 and 2010, China promised reforms to reduce miscarriages of justice and torture.

These include videotaping some interrogations, banning the use of brutal inmates as “cell bosses” to control other detainees through violence and a new rule banning evidence obtained through torture.

The government claims the reforms led to a significant drop in the use of forced confessions in 2012.

Abuse in pretrial detention centres did fall, Human Rights Watch said, but police appeared to have responded to the new rules by shifting torture to other areas with less strict monitoring, including police stations, hostels and drug rehabilitation centers they control.

Police have also learned to administer beatings and other torture in ways that left few or no marks but still caused significant suffering, the report said.

“Despite several years of reform, police are torturing criminal suspects to get them to confess to crimes, and courts are convicting people who confessed under torture,” the newspaper quoted Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, as saying.

“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.”

Human Rights Watch called on Beijing to make “fundamental reforms” to the Chinese system, including cutting the length of time suspects can be held before seeing a judge – over a month, at present – and setting up an independent commission to investigate allegations of police abuse.

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