Good start by mainland in fight against police abuse of power

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 May, 2015, 12:56am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 May, 2015, 12:56am

Beijing recently approved more than 100 measures with the goal of making the mainland's police a clean, effective force under the rule of law and of boosting public acceptance. It is a measure of how deep-rooted abuse of power is perceived to be that achievement of the goal is set for 2020, to allow time for the reforms needed to instil accountability and respect. Even with that amount of lead time there is none to be wasted, going by the latest report of a US-based rights group that analyses hundreds of published court verdicts and interviews former detainees, their relatives and lawyers, and former officials.

Human Rights Watch claims that torture, ill-treatment and wrongful conviction of suspects in police custody remain a serious problem. The government has tried before to introduce reforms after claims of brutality emerged in 2009 and 2010, and when the Criminal Procedure Law was revised in 2012. It was hoped on the latter occasion that banning evidence obtained through torture might improve things. But the rights group found that some officers got around this provision by taking prisoners away from police premises for interrogation or using torture methods that left no visible injuries.

Abuse may indeed have been reduced as the government claims, but the situation portrayed by the HRW report has to be condemned. The report calls for systemic reform at the national, regional and local government levels.

New measures such as videotaping of criminal interrogations to improve fairness in law enforcement and refocusing of police efforts on crime prevention are a good start, but need to be backed up by full legal representation. That said, judicial independence is fundamental to respect for the justice system. Without it, courts responsible for dispensing fair justice remain weaker than the police or the procuratorate. Recent moves to end the judiciary's dependence on local officials for funding, and to reduce the potential for interference and cover-ups, are steps in the right direction.