Although torture is illegal in China under both international and domestic law, there is ample evidence that torture is used by police, state security, and prison officials to extract confessions, and as a tool for political repression. In August 2007, Zhu Xiaoqing, China’s Deputy Procurator-General, admitted that “almost all of the major flawed cases discovered in recent years are closely linked to confessions extracted during interrogations.”
This month, Human Rights in China highlights the case of rights defender Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), now serving a five-year sentence in Meizhou Prison in Guangdong, essentially for editing a book. He was convicted on the basis of a confession extracted from him through torture.
"Many criminal suspects in China, as well as those who seek to defend the rights of others and speak out against injustice – lawyers, environmental activists, petitioners – have become victims of torture," said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. "In failing to honor its obligation under international and Chinese law to prevent the use of torture to extract confessions, the Chinese government violates the rights of its citizens and undermines its professed commitment to the rule-of-law."
Guo was detained for 15 months before his trial. During his detention, he was interrogated round-the-clock for 13 days, tied down to a wooden bed for 42 days with his arms and legs shackled, and hung from the ceiling by his arms while the police electrocuted his genitals with a high-voltage baton. The last of these episodes drove him to attempt suicide.
Prior to his detention in September 2006, Guo provided legal advice in a number of controversial rights defense cases, including helping the villagers of Taishi, Guangdong province, to remove their corrupt village chief in 2005. He was tried and convicted in November 2007 for publishing a book in 2001 ("illegal business activity") about a political scandal in Shenyang. At Meizhou Prison, he went on hunger strike several times to protest his ill-treatment, which included beating and solitary confinement. During one of these hunger strikes, he was force-fed a liquid that made him vomit for more than a week and turned his urine red. He is currently in poor health. The authorities also targeted his family: his wife lost her job; his son’s enrollment in school was delayed for a year; and his daughter was barred from attending her local middle school. In addition to Guo, numerous rights defenders and activists, including Yang Chunlin (杨春林), Hu Shigen (胡石根), and Li Heping (李和平), have suffered torture while in detention.
Over the past two years, various branches of the Chinese government, including the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Public Security, and Ministry of Justice, have issued regulations prohibiting the use of torture to extract confessions during interrogations. These formal measures are a step forward but must be followed by further legislative reforms and effective implementation, including substantive changes in law enforcement practices.
Over the past eight months, Human Rights in China has highlighted the following cases and the human rights challenges related to their detentions: