Hunger Strike by Death Row Inmates Underlines Use of Torture, Failure of Courts

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders- February 26, 2010) CHRD has learned that three death row inmates are staging a hunger strike in a Jiangxi prison to draw attention to their convictions, which have been upheld despite a lack of evidence and shocking abuses perpetrated by police assigned to their case. Fang Chunping (方春平), Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强), and Cheng Fagen (程发根), who have already been incarcerated for “murder, robbery, and rape” in Jingdezhen Prison for nearly seven years, have gone more than 100 hours without food or water since their protest began on February 23.

“The experience of these men serves as a grim reminder of the deep flaws in a criminal justice system which continues to execute more prisoners than any other in the world,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director.

Fang, Huang, and Cheng, along with a fourth defendant, Cheng Lihe (程立和), were arrested in Leping City, Jiangxi, in May 2002 and convicted in July 2003 of “murder, robbery, and rape” in cases which took place in 1999 and 2000. Their original conviction was overturned on appeal by the Jiangxi Province High Court in April 2004, which noted in sending the case back to a lower court for a retrial that the confessions of the four defendants were inconsistent and contradictory, and that the evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient. However, when the case was heard by the Jingdezhen Intermediate Court in November 2004, no new evidence was introduced and no new investigations into the crime were conducted. The four were convicted and sentenced to death again; the Jiangxi Province High Court once again heard their appeal, overturning their conviction in the 1999 case but upholding their conviction in the 2000 case. They are currently serving suspended death sentences.

That Fang, Huang, Cheng, and Cheng’s confessions were contradictory and inconsistent comes as no surprise, as the four defendants were subjected to brutal torture during interrogation sessions by police seeking to extract confessions. Cheng Fagen described days of torture, during which he was beaten until he lost consciousness, gagged, kicked and trampled, forced to kneel until he fainted from pain, burned with a cigarette lighter, and deprived of food, water, and sleep. The four were all subjected to similar mistreatment: when lawyers visited Huang Zhiqiang in prison in 2007, three years after his torture, deep scars on his wrists were still visible from where he had been hung by handcuffs and had his arms wrenched behind his back in the “airplane cuffs,” of which Cheng writes, “the pain was so great, it could not be described with words.” Following days of excruciating pain and mental anguish, Cheng stated he was then presented with a confession written by police, which he was forced to sign. He remembers, “When I became a little more aware they got someone to read out the confession and asked me to repeat after him, telling me that I have admitted to murder and signed the confession and now there was no going back.”

As scholar and human rights lawyer Teng Biao (滕彪) notes, police in the case were under a great deal of pressure to secure a conviction. Because serious problems with concrete evidence exist—for example, the four defendants have all provided proof they were not at the scene of the crime, critical pieces of evidence, including cigarette butts recovered at the scene, have not been tested for DNA evidence, no fingerprints from the scene have tied to the defendants to the crime, and the body of one of the victims has not been recovered—prosecutors were forced to rely on confessions. And yet, when the defendants’ confessions were presented in court, they contradicted not only each other but the central facts of the case.

Dozens of Chinese lawyers and legal scholars have become involved in this case over the past few years as it touches on many of the major problems with the application of the death penalty in China. Police and prosecutors, under pressure from above and operating in a system in which torturers are rarely, if ever, held accountable, were able to cruelly mistreat Fang Chunping, Huang Zhiqiang, Cheng Fagen, and Cheng Lihe with impunity. A judicial system that remains subservient to political concerns has grossly violated their right to a fair trial and has placed the four at imminent risk of losing their lives. And now, nearly eight years after they were first arrested, that three of the prisoners feel compelled to undertake a hunger strike is a testament to the difficulties China’s death row inmates face in getting a fair appeal and having their convictions overturned.

For more information, please see:

Teng Biao, “On Leping Case,”

Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Regarding the Case of Mr. Cheng Fagen,

CHRD, “Persistent Torture, Unaccountable Torturers: A Report on China’s Implementation of Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,”

Media Contacts:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286

Jiang Yingying, Researcher (English and Mandarin), +852 8170 0237

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