Chinese police still routinely use torture to extract confessions from criminal suspects, Amnesty International said Thursday, despite Beijing's recent criminal justice and legal reforms.
The report, entitled "No End in Sight," is based in part on interviews with dozens of human rights lawyers, and comes as the United Nations is set to conduct a regular review of China's record on torture.
"For the police, obtaining a confession is still the easiest way to secure a conviction," said Patrick Poon, a China researcher at the London-based rights group.
Methods of torture outlined by Amnesty include beatings, sleep deprivation, being forced into painful positions for long periods, and withholding food, water, or medication.
Since 2010, China has introduced a number of guidelines it says have successfully reduced torture, including laws explicitly banning the practice.
But the measures have been ineffective, says Amnesty, partly because the courts that are supposed to punish such behavior are controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
"China’s police authority still wields too much power within the judicial system," the report said, "As a result, few perpetrators of torture are held to account."
Amnesty also faulted the "deep-rooted practices" of China's criminal justice system. "The system still overly relies on 'confessions' as the basis of most convictions, providing an almost irresistible incentive for law enforcement agencies to obtain them by any means necessary," it said.
While it did not directly respond to the report, Beijing's Foreign Ministry Thursday insisted Chinese law is committed to ensuring "fairness and justice."
"Extorting a confession by torture is explicitly banned by China's laws. The person who is found exercising torture during interrogation will be subject to punishment," said ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
The Amnesty findings were corroborated by other recent reports, including a May investigation by Human Rights Watch, which dismissed China's criminal justice reforms as being "easily circumvented."
China next week will be scrutinized by the U.N. Convention against Torture, an international panel of experts that judges whether signatory nations are complying with the U.N.'s anti-torture convention.
"Torture remains a daily reality in China, and this is a critical moment for Beijing to answer tough questions about why this problem still exists," said HRW China director Sophie Richardson in a statement on Thursday.
"Dishonesty, evasion, or obfuscation from officials at the review can only deepen torture survivors’ agony. An honest discussion that commits to accountability for torturers might help mitigate survivors’ pain and indicate willingness to reform."