The illegal practice of extracting confessions by use of torture is being employed less and less by regular police, but instead is being increasingly adopted by procuratorial branches seeking to make cases in a bid to bypass recent legal reforms, Chinese legal experts told the 21st Century Business Herald.
“[Cases of] abuse-related misconduct by procuratorial organs are increasing – eclipsing even those of the police force,” said Chen Weidong, a law school professor at Beijing-based Renmin University, one of China’s top universities.
“Procuratorial branches are heading backwards when it comes to the practice of extorting confessions using torture,” said Wang Shaotao, a deputy director of the Yunnan Provincial Lawyers Association. “Abuses have been diverted towards procuratorial branches," he added.
Chen was cited saying most cases of torture happened to witnesses and people who were testifying, who under Chinese law are rarely allowed to appear at hearings in person – and are therefore less able to make complaints about torture.
The frequent and increasing occurrence of forced confessions have long been cited by human rights activists and lawyers who say the practice is the result of inadequate procedural laws. This prompted the government to revamp its Criminal Procedure Law in 2013 as a part a sweeping legal reform package.
These revisions, widely viewed as a major step by the Chinese judiciary to reform its legal system, consisted of measures to rein in the use of torture by police officers to extract confessions from suspects, and a revamp of other existing regulations.
The revision strengthened the mandatory implementation of video or audio recordings during the interrogation process, banned certain laws relating to self-incrimination for the first time, and provided easier access for lawyers to arrange meetings with clients in custody prior to trial.
Shanghai-based rights lawyer Si Weijiang told the South China Morning Post on Monday the growing number of forced confessions employing torture occurred mostly in graft or corruption cases involving government officials.
“Most cases of misconduct occurred during the ‘Shuanggui’,” Si said, referring to an internal disciplinary process conducted by the Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog on suspected corrupt officials prior to the standard prosecution stage. The prosecutors are often involved in the process as well, Si added.
“There are almost no clear stipulations regulating the extraction of confessions by the use of torture during that particular process,” he said. “Unlike, when suspects are in police custody, or procuratorial facilities, where conduct is more closely monitored.”
The only solution to this, the lawyer said, lay in either abolishing the “Shuanggui” system entirely, or forbidding Communist Party disciplining officers from collaborating with prosecutors in an investigation. “But neither of these is practicable in the short-term,” Si said.