News / Asia

China Top Court Rules Out Forced Confessions

FILE - A paramilitary policeman stands guard at the entrance of China's Supreme Court in Beijing.
FILE - A paramilitary policeman stands guard at the entrance of China's Supreme Court in Beijing.
VOA News
China's top court has ruled out forced confessions and vowed to reduce miscarriage of justice, in a move that highlights increasing policy emphasis on legal reform.
The directive, issued by China's Supreme People's Court on Thursday, is intended to strengthen the rule of law in a system that many analysts agree still lacks basic elements of judicial independence. 
The court says that all levels of the judiciary are required to perform their duties strictly according to the law, base their judgments on facts, and protect human rights. It lists 27 provisions, including the protection of defendants' right of attorney, the need for trials to be open and based on legally obtained evidence, and the elimination of confessions obtained through torture.
Encouraging sign

Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch says the ruling is an encouraging sign that the government is responding to pressure from society demanding better rights protection during criminal trials. 
“It gives a foothold to lawyers and legal reformers in China, it helps them put pressure on the police, on the courts, on the judicial system whenever they don't act accordingly,” he says.   
In recent years, China has introduced procedural mechanisms to guarantee defendants fair trials, including an amendment last year requiring police to allow lawyers to meet with their client within 48 hours after a request is filed.  Thursday's court ruling is a step in that same direction - analysts say - in a system plagued by endemic problems of obtaining confessions through torture, wrongful convictions and persecution of lawyers.
Police remain powerful
But rights advocates say that despite court reforms, the powerful police in China still make the justice system unfair.  In a recent case, a Chinese official under investigation for corruption was tortured to death and drowned in a bathtub as police investigators were trying to break him into confession.
Bequelin of Human Rights Watch says that given that courts in China are often subservient to police departments, there are limits to what the courts - such as with Thursday's provisions - can achieve.  “It is all well for the courts to say 'oh, we are going to make sure we reduce wrongful convictions and torture,' but the fact is they have very little leverage to do that because it is basically the police that are driving the criminal system in China,” he says. 
Call for review of past cases
Li Zhuang, a criminal lawyer based in Beijing, says that to prove they are serious in implementing the documents, courts should start reviewing past cases where lawyers have presented proof of coerced testimony.  
Li Zhuang was one of the lawyers targeted in a campaign against mafia in Chongqing, then the stronghold of now ousted politician Bo Xilai.  Li was charged with perjury after attempting to defend a local entrepreneur whose confession had been obtained through torture.
Li confessed wrongdoing and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.  “Contesting evidence has been provided that sufficiently overthrows that judgment, but it has been more than two years and there has been no review,” Li says. “We have to wait and see whether these provisions will be implemented on the ground. That is the next step.”  Li says there is little incentive for court officials to review cases because in many instances they have based career promotions on wrongful convictions.
In Chongqing, some of the city's wealthiest entrepreneurs were put to jail based on confessions obtained through illegal means, and their assets were seized by the city government.  “Many assets seized during the campaign have been spent," Li says. They used them to plant trees and organize red songs revivals. How can you give back money that has already been spent?”
Evolution of judicial reforms
The Supreme Court's ruling comes days after China wrapped up an important party meeting and announced key reforms in a number of fields, including its legal system.  After much public pressure, party leaders pledged to scrap the system of re-education through labor - a notorious practice of administrative detention that gives the police rights to bypass courts and detain suspects without trial for up to three years.
Such amendments have been welcomed by legal scholars and professionals in China, but some believe that individual measures will be meaningless if they do not ensure independence of the legal system - which in China is still to a great extent under the yoke of the party and the public security apparatus.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs