[CHRB] Hampered Investigation Into Death in Custody; Ineffective New Rules on Lawyers’ Input in Capital Cases (1/30-2/5/2015)Comments Off on [CHRB] Hampered Investigation Into Death in Custody; Ineffective New Rules on Lawyers’ Input in Capital Cases (1/30-2/5/2015)
China Human Rights Briefing
January 30 – February 5, 2015
Special Coverage on Torture
- Anhui Farmer Dies in Detention Center, Family Demands Investigation
Law & Policy Watch
- New Rules on Lawyers’ Input on Death Penalty Reviews Too Weak to Cut Down On Executions
Special Coverage on Torture
Anhui Farmer Dies in Detention Center, Family Demands Investigation
The family of Anhui Province farmer Yang Wusi (杨五四) has called on local authorities to explain how he died in detention, suspecting that he may have been tortured to death. Police criminally detained Yang, 44, on November 27 on suspicion of “rape” and held him at Qianshan County Detention Center in Anqing City. In the evening of January 3, officials notified his family that Yang was critically ill and had been taken to Anqing City Navy Hospital, but he died the next morning. Yang’s family has stated that he was in good health before his detention.
During Yang’s autopsy, which the family observed, Yang was found to have no food in his stomach, bruises on his body, a wound on his head, and bloodstains on his clothes, strongly suggesting that he may have been beaten and even starved to death. The family’s lawyer applied to the Qianshan Public Security Bureau to release video surveillance recordings from when Yang was in the detention center, but officials refused, and the lawyer was not allowed to view Yang’s case file. Police also did not provide an explanation into why police criminally detained Yang for longer than 37-days, the legal limit allowed before he should have been arrested or released. Officials have not responded to the family’s further request for an investigation. Instead, the Qianshan County government issued a press release on February 2, which said all legal procedures were followed in Yang’s case, insinuated that Yang Wusi had a psychiatric illness, and claimed the cause of his death is being investigated.
Law & Policy Watch
New Rules on Lawyers’ Input on Death Penalty Reviews Too Weak to Cut Down On Executions
Recently announced guidelines issued by China’s Supreme People’s Court on taking defense lawyers’ opinions into account in reviews of death sentences are unlikely to strengthen oversight on such cases, according to a legal expert who spoke to CHRD. The guidelines, which went into effect on February 1, allow defense lawyers to meet with judges about the death sentences under review and gain more access than before to some case documents and witness statements. Though taking a nominal step towards transparency in the review process, the rules have clear shortcomings, and will do little to remove obstacles that exist for lawyers defending those sentenced to death.
With a severe shortage of lawyers handling criminal cases in China, court-appointed “legal aid” lawyers handle the vast majority of death penalty cases. These attorneys are unlikely to challenge a case presented by prosecutors or a death sentence handed down by a court, nor offer a robust defense of someone who has been condemned to death. In general, lawyers—including unlicensed “citizen” lawyers—who are hired by families in criminal cases are far more willing than court-appointed attorneys to challenge the state-controlled law-enforcement and judicial establishment, according to the lawyer CHRD consulted. Under the new guidelines, however, only licensed lawyers may provide opinions on capital cases, effectively barring from this process rights defense lawyers who judicial authorities have disbarred for political reasons, as well as “citizen” lawyers. Such exclusions mean that a death row inmate’s right to a fair review is further diminished.
The guidelines also state that a lawyer must initiate a request to meet with a presiding judge, thus not requiring a judge to be responsible for gathering opinions on cases. This provision is hard to implement since the guidelines do not instruct lawyers about how or to whom they can file such requests, or within what time frame. As the lawyer told CHRD, at this stage of review of death penalty cases, lawyers are treated the same way as petitioners who file personal grievances: It is very difficult for them to find out who is the presiding Supreme Court judge or how to contact the judge, and even harder to secure a hearing.
During the period of review by the Supreme People’s Court, courts do not allow lawyers full access to case files or permission to meet with their condemned clients, who by that time would have already lost death sentence appeals. Without access to case materials and defendants, lawyers who are able to speak to judges are unlikely to provide opinions based on knowledge beyond court verdicts and any publicly available information. This seriously undermines lawyers’ ability to present a fair and well-informed defense.
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