UN body calls on China to stop torturing detainees

Watchdog raises concerns over 'black jails', ill-treatment in criminal justice system

GENEVA • A United Nations rights watchdog has called on China to halt the torture of detainees that it said remains widespread in police stations and prisons, and to close its secret illegal "black jails".

The UN Committee against Torture voiced deep concern on Wednesday over the deaths in custody of many high-profile political prisoners and China's crackdown on lawyers and activists. At least 25 of 200 lawyers rounded up since July remain in detention, it said.

The 10-member committee, which periodically reviews records of countries that have ratified an international convention against torture, issued its report after questioning a large Chinese delegation last month. Its recommendations came after a two-day hearing, the first review since 2008. It asked Beijing to report back in one year on progress in complying with the treaty.

"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.

ALARMING PRACTICE

A sign of this problem of widespread torture is the use of so-called interrogation chairs, which are chairs that are fixed to the ground and where the persons interrogated are restrained (by their) arms. There are no time limits as to how long such an interrogation could take place, which in itself ... could easily amount to torture.

DR JENS MODVIG, UN Committee against Torture panel member

It said it had numerous credible reports that "document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans". A report by Amnesty International last month detailed how suspects received electric shocks, were punched, kicked, hit with shoes or bottles filled with water, denied sleep and locked in iron chairs for hours on end.

Activists, lawyers, petitioners, political dissidents and members of minorities "continue to be charged, or threatened to be charged, with broadly defined offences as a form of intimidation", the panel said, citing charges of endangering national security. "When you are accused of a crime of national security you do not have... access to a lawyer... for an indefinite time," chairman Claudio Grossman said. "There is no right to judicial appeal."

The committee also voiced alarm over China's alleged use of so-called "black jails", or secret detention facilities. Vice-chairman George Tugushi said: "We have received numerous allegations... that sometimes people are kept in secret detention places and their relatives are unaware of their whereabouts."

The UN experts also decried China's use of interrogation chairs. "A sign of this problem... is the use of... chairs that are fixed to the ground and where the persons interrogated are restrained (by their) arms," panel member Jens Modvig said. "There are no time limits as to how long such an interrogation could take place, which in itself... could easily amount to torture."

Foreign Ministry spokesman 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 ahead of the report's release.

Echoing the panel's concerns, US ambassador to China Max Baucus called on China yesterday to recognise several detained rights lawyers as "partners, not enemies of the government" on International Human Rights Day, comments that are likely to anger Beijing.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'UN body calls on China to stop torturing detainees'. Print Edition | Subscribe