News / Asia

    Activists Wary of China’s Ban on Evidence Obtained from Torture

    Guard checks handcuffs on group of prisoners in Chongqing (file photo)
    Guard checks handcuffs on group of prisoners in Chongqing (file photo)

    China has outlawed the use of torture to obtain evidence in criminal prosecutions. While rights activists welcome the news, they are concerned the move is aimed at easing public anger over a high-profile wrongful conviction case.

    The Chinese government announced the ban following national outrage over a farmer who spent a decade in prison for a murder he did not commit. Zhao Zuohai says police beat him into confessing to the murder.

    His wrongful conviction was thrown out after his supposed victim turned out to be alive. Zhao was freed and given $96,000 in compensation.

    Sune Segal, the head of communications for the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture in Copenhagen, says Zhao’s case was instrumental in changing Beijing’s policies on torture.

    “It’s a big deal that the Chinese government sends a very strong signal across the board to say that evidence obtained under torture is simply not acceptable because it’s not only confirming the illegality, it’s also giving a very strong signal that evidence obtained through torture is inherently unreliable,” Segal said.

    China does have laws banning torture, but they are not strictly enforced, and rights groups say coerced confessions are common. The new regulations explicitly invalidate court testimony given under duress, and bar evidence with unclear origins or gathered through force or intimidation.

    Death penalty cases

    Sophie Richardson, a China expert with Human Rights Watch in Washington, DC, says the laws are especially important in death penalty cases.

    “The death penalty is applied with not just alarming frequency in China but often in cases where due process has been routinely ignored,” Richardson said. “It remains entirely possible to be put to death in China for a crime you didn’t commit.”

    Rights groups say China conducts more executions than all other nations combined.

    Public relations or reform?

    Despite Beijing’s new regulations, Richardson is not convinced they will result in defendants gaining more rights. She sees the anti-torture law as mainly a gesture to quell public outrage over Zhao Zuohai’s case.

    “This is a government that is generally concerned about social stability as it understands it. And the response is not necessarily to address the root causes of the grievance but at least to do enough so that they can claim that they ought to be seen as responding to a public outcry,” Richardson said.

    Richardson says Beijing needs to take more concrete measures to show it is committed to legal reform -- like providing defendants access to their lawyers, or actually tossing evidence out of court.

    Party politics

    She says even if some authorities are committed to improving China’s rule of law, they will face obstacles within the Communist Party and the powerful Ministry of Public Security and Supreme People’s Procuratorate.

    “The party doesn’t want to essentially make itself subordinate to an independent judicial system because then it would not have all the power unto itself,” Richardson said. “I think there’s probably also enormous resistance from the public security or the national security authorities who don’t want to have to be answerable really to anybody.”

    Sune Segal, of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture, acknowledges the challenges of changing the mindset of police and judicial authorities in a country as vast as China. But he says the new regulations are important, especially the rule requiring police accused of torture to testify in court.

    Culture of impunity

    Segal points out that in a rare victory for victims’ rights, the police officers accused of torturing the wrongly convicted farmer were arrested and sentenced.

    “Impunity remains one of the biggest problems in the whole fight to eradicate torture. It is a unique exception almost that torturers are convicted for their crime,” Segal said. “Each time it happens, we welcome it because it does send a strong signal to others who torture or who might torture, ‘Don’t do it, you’re going to be held accountable.’”

    Despite China’s attempts to clean up the legal system, public frustration remains. On Tuesday, a man shot dead three judges at a court in southern Hunan province before killing himself.  Officials say he was upset with the way the court handled his divorce case.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    What Your First Name Says About Who You Support for President

    Bobby, Betty and Curtis tend to support Donald Trump while people named Juan, Liz or Mohammad are more likely to lean toward Hillary Clinton

    South Pole Diary: In Round-the-clock Darkness, Radiant Moon Shines Like the Sun

    You hear more and see more when the moon first comes out; it’s your senses in overdrive, tuning into a new world.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora