Mon, Aug 29, 2005 - Page 9 News List

China allows UN torture probe -- at last

Forced confessions, a huge number of death sentences, little understanding of the function of defense lawyers, that's the brutal reality of the law in China


It took 10 years of effort by the UN to convince China to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit the country for the first time for inspections.

Under international guidelines, such inspections include unannounced visits to prisons and unsupervised interviews with prisoners.

Beijing's move to allow the inspections came just ahead of President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) scheduled first visit to the United States, and is likely to improve the climate of Hu's meeting with US President George W. Bush on September 7.

Manfred Nowak, the current rapporteur and Vienna-based Professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights, is due to visit China from November 21 to December 2.

Apart from talks in Beijing, he is expected to travel to the Tibetan capital Lhasa to collect information about the condition of prisoners in Tibet, where many oppose the rule of China over the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan region.

Nowak also plans to visit the autonomous Xinjiang in Northwest China where the Uighur -- an Islamic Turk ethnic minority -- have reported persecution by the central Chinese government.

Whether Nowak will be able to establish the truth about the occurrence of torture in China is unclear as the UN official has to investigate numerous torture allegations during his short time in the country.

The Falun Gong, a spiritual movement with millions of followers, says its members are systematically tortured and many of them killed in re-education camps.

The group is outlawed and persecuted across the country amid Beijing's efforts to stem the rise of the Buddhist and Taoist inspired movement, that reminds communist leaders of former secret societies.

Human rights activists have also reported frequent attacks on political prisoners by other detainees, who have been instigated by prison guards.

Even regular suspects are often tortured by police officials in an attempt to force confessions, according to observers.

The case of She Xianglin (佘祥林) triggered much publicity last April. Convicted of the murder of his wife, he had spent 11 years in jail until the alleged victim re-emerged -- alive and with a new partner.

She Xianglin, now aged 40, said he had been forced under torture to confess the murder.

When some public debate was admitted because of the outcry in the country after the revelations, even Chinese experts said forced confessions were "not unusual in China."

"Although strictly forbidden by law, they are common in many places because the police are under great pressure from above to solve crimes," a law professor was quoted by China's official news agency Xinhua in a rare case of media openness.

Besides the practise of forced confessions, detainees in China are facing an underdeveloped legal systems in which defense lawyers have little status or impact.

In view of such circumstances, the high number of death sentences carried out in China every year appears even more alarming.

More people are executed per year in the PRC than in the entire rest of the world. The precise figure is a state secret.

Even Beijing has admitted the risk of miscarriages of justice. However, even though the Supreme Court wants to review all death penalties issued by provincial courts as a matter of routine, it has only checked individual cases because of lack of staff.

When the United Nation's new Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbor makes her entry visit to the Chinese government next week, she plans to discuss the question of death penalties.

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