Torture methods such as hanging from the wrists and the tiger chair, left, said to be common in Chinese prisons, and lawyer Cai Ying’s sketch of a suspended interrogation chair (right). Photo: SCMP Pictures

Interrogation chairs ‘padded for comfort’, claims Chinese official as Beijing denies torturing or holding political prisoners

China denied that it held political prisoners and said it prohibited the use of torture when it faced a United Nations' review of its record on Wednesday, evoking derision from exiled dissidents.

Winding up a two-day scrutiny of the country's human rights performance, senior Chinese officials evaded questions about the number of police or prison guards prosecuted for torture and the treatment of high-profile prisoners, including several of whom died in custody.

A report by Amnesty International last week detailed how suspects received electric shocks, were punched, kicked, hit with shoes or bottles filled with water, denied sleep and locked in iron chairs forcing them into painful postures for hours on end.

READ MORE: Detained lawyers, activists in China face serious risk of torture, says Amnesty International

Patrick Poon, one of the researchers behind the Amnesty report, said after the hearing that the chairs were among the biggest complaints from lawyers and their clients.

Li Zhongcheng of the Chinese prosecution authority insisted they were needed to hinder detainees from escaping, injuring themselves or their interrogators.

“To avoid such situations we use interrogation chairs. The chair is sometimes packaged with soft padding to increase a sense of comfort and to increase safety,” he said.

Jens Modvig, one of the committee’s top investigators, remained unconvinced, pointing out that “in a detention place there [should be] no need for restraints”.

UN experts pressed Chinese officials on Tuesday about persistent allegations that torture was rife in the country's police stations and prisons, especially of political prisoners, and about deaths in custody.

“There are no such cases of political prisoners,” said Jin Chunzi of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission. “The allegation of cruel treatment of suspects from ethnic minority groups is groundless.”

Committee chairman Claudio Grossman said in his summary: “I was surprised to hear that solitary confinement is a 'management tool'. I want clarification because it is certainly perceived as a penalty.”

The experts questioned the use of electric shocks and rigid interrogation chairs which left inmates in painful positions for long periods.

The [interrogation] chair is sometimes packaged with soft padding to increase a sense of comfort and to increase safety
Li Zhongcheng, Chinese prosecution authority

Golog Jigme, a prominent Tibetan monk who broke out of a Chinese detention centre in 2012 and attended the session after receiving Swiss asylum last month, voiced disappointment.

“Back in Tibet I was used to Chinese propaganda and to hearing lies each and every time there were communications by the Chinese government,” he said. “I can honestly say there was not the slightest truth in anything they said today.

“Regarding the interrogation chair, which was highly debated today, they said it was for the detainee's safety. Look at my wounds, on my hands and feet, in fact it was brutal torture.”

Dolkun Isa of the World Uygur Congress, said: “Most answers are not the reality, they are avoiding answering the questions ... I am not optmistic China will really make improvements.”

Wu Hailong, China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva and head of the delegation, said his country’s “position against torture is firm”, insisting it was making “enormous efforts” to halt the abuse.

Li Wensheng, the deputy director general of legal affairs at China’s public security ministry, insisted the country “prohibits torture and prosecutes any personnel or state organs for torture activities”.

“There are plenty of cases prosecuting torture offenders,” he told the committee, pointing to a case of five police officers sentenced to up to two years in prison for extracting confessions under torture.

Committee member Alessio Bruni responded dryly that those penalties seemed “rather mild”.

Meanwhile, officials from Hong Kong were taken to task over the police crackdown on last year’s pro-democracy protests.

Hong Kong’s permanent secretary for security Joshua Law Chi-kong insisted to the committee that the police force had shown “a high degree of restraint”, saying that 133 officers had been injured during the 79-day protest.

Hong Kong activist Ken Tsang, who was filmed during the protests being punched and kicked by a group of police officers while in handcuffs, did not agree.

“They are just lying... They are trying to minimise the violence towards the demonstrators,” he said after the hearing.

Seven police officers were charged with assault over the incident, while Tsang himself was also charged with attacking 11 police officers.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse