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Torture in China: A Vicious Cycle

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China Power

Torture in China: A Vicious Cycle

Reports from human rights groups paint a dark picture of the use of torture in China’s legal system.

Torture in China: A Vicious Cycle
Credit: China prison concept image via ChameleonsEye /

Amnesty International just released its November 11 report, “No End In Sight: Torture and Forced Confessions in China,” detailing the prevalence of torture in China.

Upon hearing this, Chinese Community Party fundamentalists will no doubt pitch their best tu quoque curveball, and yes, to an extent it’s unfair to single out China, since it isn’t the only nation that practices torture.

On prominent cases is the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. However, when the Pentagon refused to release the names of prisoners held there, the Associated Press filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, something unimaginable in China’s political climate, and a federal judge ordered the Pentagon to comply.

On a much smaller scale, there are cases like that of the commissariat of Saint Denis, just north of Paris, who in 2005 faced allegations that he’d ordered police to rape and torture prisoners. But he was forced to resign, whereas “No End In Sight notes that in China, “there is little legislation criminalizing torture as such, and anti-torture legislation is mostly confined to the prohibition of obtaining ‘confessions’ or other purported evidence through torture.”

Amnesty International has also published reports on Israel’s torture practices, but Israel has human rights groups such as B’Tselem fighting for the rights of Israeli and Palestinian prisoners, whereas the recent report states that in China, “the most active human rights lawyers have increasingly become targets of government crackdowns, and face disbarment and harassment at the hands of authorities” and “have themselves become victims of torture.”

The report also states that lawyers’ efforts to protect their clients from human rights violations are labelled “harmful” to the system and to social stability. But Patrick Poon, the author of the report, has countered, “[I]f they continue to crack down on lawyers and to allow this kind of torture to happen, it won’t help maintain social stability but will only create even more social unrest.”

Besides, if protecting people from abusive harm is itself harmful to the system, this raises questions about the ultimate value of that system. Asking such questions in China, however, often provokes censorship, arrest and further torture. By all appearances, the state wants to be able to oppress the people of China without the intervention of lawyers, and without anyone voicing objection.

According to a February 9 report submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture by Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), the main problem concerning torture in China is a lack of access to judges, doctors, and lawyers.

First, CHRD notes, “detainees are not brought before a judge promptly, and the length of the pre-trial detention period has reached beyond legally permitted duration of time,” in some cases almost two years.

Second, detainees aren’t given access to doctors of their own choice. The report notes the case of activist Cao Shunli, who “died on March 14, 2014, after she was denied adequate treatment in detention and refused medical bail.” CHRD says that “once she was in critical condition, authorities at the detention center transferred Cao to a military hospital and blocked her family from visiting for several days, and never allowed her lawyers to see her.”

Third, prisoners are routinely deprived of legal counsel, in violation of Article 37 of the Criminal Procedural Law. One common method of doing this is by citing “state security,” as police did at Zhengzhou No. 3 Detention Center in Henan, when they “arrested eight activists and two lawyers in July 2014 and then held them for 10 weeks without access to their lawyers or family members.”

Good people continue to fight to protect the legal rights of Chinese citizens and see better laws enacted, but meanwhile the people they seek to protect continue to be brutalized and they themselves remain in danger. As CHRD recently commented, “in China, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment remain persistent and widespread.”