A Human Rights Watch report of Chinese jails and interrogations claims that routine torture has continued unabated, despite government reforms.
“Tiger Chairs and Cell Bosses” explores 432 court verdicts for cases in which torture had been alleged since 2014.
Following a number of high-profile cases, China pledged practical regulatory measures to curb torture in 2009, before undertaking legislative reform in 2012—amending the Criminal Procedure Law to make confessions and written statements obtained through torture inadmissible in trial.
While the government has announced that it successfully reduced the incidence of torture—the Ministry of Public Security (the agency responsible for police) claims that the use of coerced confessions decreased by 87 percent in 2012—this report suggests that measures have not gone far enough and police continue to cover up abuse.
According to the New York-based human rights group, torture has been endemic to the criminal justice system due to the expectation on police to extract confessions from suspects in order to secure a conviction. This is particularly disconcerting given that 99.93 percent of criminal defendants are found guilty and China endorses capital punishment. In 2014, an Inner Mongolian court posthumously exonerated a teenager who was executed in 1996 after it was found his confession to rape and murder was obtained through torture.
The report’s title is an allusion to two of the illegal practices which persist in the face of the reforms as police flout the new laws. Suspects are reportedly strapped to metal “tiger chairs” for days at a time, where they are deprived of food and sleep; while “cell bosses” are fellow detainees who are employed by police to terrorise suspects—a convention which has been explicitly outlawed. Other alleged examples of neglect and abuse include beatings, electrocution, starvation, hanging prisoners from their wrists and spraying chill oil at their genitals.
Of the 432 cases in which the accused alleged mistreatment during interrogation, evidence was only excluded in 23 cases and none of the trials ended in acquittal. Only a single case merited prosecution of police officers for using torture and none ended up serving prison time. The report noted that abuse was especially prominent in high-profile corruption trials, while lawyers speculated that a controversial journalist who confessed to leaking state secrets was likely subjected to severe pressure during detention—although China’s persecution of free speech is another issue altogether.
In its report, Human Rights Watch exhorted Beijing to intensify its reforms and advocated restrictions on the length of detention (currently over a month without coming before a judge) as well as establishing an independent commission to investigate allegations of police abuse.
The report comes at an interesting time, given china faces a review before the UN Committee against Torture in November of this year.
By Liam Bourke