Reuters: U.N. calls on China to end rife torture, crackdown on lawyers

Geneva | By Stephanie Nebehay

Wed Dec 9, 2015 7:45am EST

■ A United Nations rights watchdog called on China on Wednesday to halt torture of detainees that it said remains rife in police stations and prisons, and to close its secret “black jails”.

The U.N. Committee against Torture voiced deep concern about the deaths in custody of several high-profile political prisoners and at China’s crackdown on lawyers. At least 25 of 200 lawyers rounded up since July remain in detention, it said.

A paramilitary police officer in plain-clothes holding an
umbrella keeps watch on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, August
27, 2015.
Reuters/Jason Lee/Files

The 10 independent experts asked Beijing to report back in one year on progress in complying with an international treaty banning torture. Their recommendations came after examining China’s record at a two-day hearing last month, the first review since 2008.

“The Committee remains seriously concerned over consistent reports indicating that the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system, which overly relies on confessions as the basis for convictions,” the Committee said.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had not seen the report. “But in recent years China has been promoting the rule of law and has made great efforts in all regards including on opposing torture,” she told a daily news briefing, speaking ahead of the report’s release.

The U.N. watchdog said it had numerous credible reports that “document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans”.

Human rights activists, lawyers, petitioners, political dissidents and members of religious or ethnic minorities “continue to be charged, or threatened to be charged, with broadly-defined offences as a form of intimidation”, it said, citing charges of endangering national security or terrorism.

At the review, China denied that it held political prisoners and said its government prohibited use of torture, evoking derision from exiled dissidents who attended.

The U.N. experts said most cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment took place during pre-trial and extra-legal detention and involved public security officers.

Interrogations, deaths in custody

Detainees should have access to a lawyer from the very start of custody and should be brought before a judge within 48 hours.

Audio-visual recordings of interrogations should be mandatory and coerced confessions inadmissible, they said. An independent, confidential complaints mechanism for torture victims should be established.

China should reduce the 37-day maximum period of police custody, which includes seven days before a prosecutor must approve arrests, the report said.

Voicing concern at deaths in custody and the alleged lack of prompt medical care, it cited the cases of the activist Cao Shunli and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan monk. She died in jail last year and he in July 2015.

The U.N. experts urged China to limit the use of solitary confinement to a measure of last resort, and decried its use of an interrogation chair with restraints.

The crackdown on human rights lawyers followed “other reported escalating abuses on lawyers for carrying out their professional responsibilities, particularly on cases involving government accountability and issues such as torture, defense of human rights activists and religious practitioners.”

China should “stop sanctioning lawyers” for actions taken in line with their work and instead punish the perpetrators.

Chinese law allows suspects to be put under residential surveillance “at a designated location” for up to six months in cases involving state security, terrorism or bribery. This “may amount to incommunicado detention in secret places, putting detainees at high risk of torture or ill-treatment”.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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