[CHRB] Detailed Case of Police Abuse to Extract Confession Comes to Light Weeks Before UN Review of China’s Torture Record (10/16-22, 2015)

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[CHRB] Detailed Case of Police Abuse to Extract Confession Comes to Light Weeks Before UN Review of China’s Torture Record (10/16-22, 2015)

China Human Rights Briefing

October 16-22, 2015

Focus on Torture

Chinese Police Use Torture To Extract Confession: Prior to UN Review of China’s Record on Torture, Activist Shen Aibin Reveals Details of His 2013 Ordeal

Jiangsu activist Shen Aibin (沈爱斌) recently came forward with a detailed account of the inhumane tactics used by Chinese police to extract a confession from him in 2013 after he and others rescued petitioners from a “black jail” in the city of Wuxi. Shen’s case, by no means an isolated case, illustrates the weak protections for individuals within China’s law-enforcement and criminal justice systems. His ordeal—of violent “interrogation” sessions and later criminal conviction based on a confession obtained through torture—exemplifies the ongoing use of cruel and inhumane methods by Chinese state agents against individuals in their custody. China’s failure to prevent torture, investigate and prosecute torturers, or prevent the use of illegal evidence at trial will be among the issues under close scrutiny when the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) reviews China’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Geneva in mid-November.

In June 2013, Shen and other activists were detained soon after discovering an illegal detention cell inside a guesthouse in Wuxi and freeing petitioners held inside, and Shen was subsequently tortured. In March 2014, authorities released the activists on “bail pending further investigation” due to a lack of evidence. Two months later, however, after the activists told authorities that a guard they had seen at a local procuratorate building had also been a guard at the black jail, authorities took them back into custody. Accused of “intentional damage to property,” five activists were tried in the case but only two were sentenced—Shen (to 18 months) and Ding Hongfen (丁红芬), who received a 21-month sentence. Shen was released from prison in March 2015.

Activist Shen Aibin has revealed his experience of being tortured into confessing to a crime in June 2013. His detailed account comes to light just weeks before the UN review of China’s compliance with the Convention against Torture.

Activist Shen Aibin has revealed his experience of being tortured into confessing to a crime in June 2013. His detailed account comes to light just weeks before the UN review of China’s compliance with the Convention against Torture.

According to Shen’s account of mistreatment, police officers began torturing him the day he was first taken into custody, June 26, 2013, and up through July 10. Four officers seized Shen from his home in Wuxi, hooded him, and took him to Dongjiang Police Station in Binhu District, where he was severely beaten, verbally abused, and threatened, with the apparent aim to force him to confess to criminal behavior tied to the black jail incident. Upon his arrival at the station, an officer reportedly said to Shen, “I am the lord of coerced confessions, and as long as the government wants it, I’m sure that I can bust you in two and handle your family, too.”

When Shen refused to write out a confession, police used a gruesome torture technique to try to get him to talk. They attached his arms to two rails of a “V-shaped” ladder and stretched the sides of the ladder out, pulling Shen’s arms wide apart. Though in excruciating pain and going numb, Shen did not show that he was hurt, so the officers removed the handcuffs and took him off the ladder, only to repeat the same method of torture several times. With Shen in agonizing pain, an officer told him, “There’s no rush. We have plenty of time, and I want to see how hard your bones are. I’ve handled lots of cases, and there’s never been anyone who I couldn’t break.”

After 25 hours of abuse and interrogation, Shen was hooded and taken to a black jail inside a guesthouse, where officers continued to torture him. On July 3, he was taken back to the police station and tortured again. Finally, under duress, Shen signed copies of a confession that the police had prepared. Still not satisfied with Shen’s coerced confession, those handling his case took Shen from Wuxi City No. 1 Detention Center on July 10 and back to the black jail that the group had discovered, where they photographed Shen in an apparent attempt to produce incriminating evidence. They then locked him back up in Dongjiang Police Station, further tortured him, and made him sign more copies of a confession.

Shen revealed that officers put towels between his hands and the handcuffs in order to avoid leaving any physical marks (Chinese police commonly employ tactics to conceal visible signs of abuse). Covered with the towels, his hands were squeezed very tight and swelled up, pain shot through his arms, and he felt numb, but he was able to recover quickly. Authorities finally allowed Shen’s lawyer to visit him on July 19, at which time Shen disclosed that he had been tortured to confess.[1]

What are the broader issues related to international protections against torture?

Shen Aibin’s case is replete with legal and rights violations that also plague many other cases of individuals in police custody in China, including human rights defenders as well as “ordinary” detainees not engaged in rights advocacy work. During the coming review of China’s compliance with the Convention against Torture, CAT will scrutinize cases of torture in China and examine reasons why torture continues. In preparation for the dialogue, the Chinese government recently responded to CAT about major issues related to torture (see the list of issues  that the Committee submitted to China and the government’s Chinese-language responses).

Among the concerns are ones clearly illustrated by Shen Aibin’s case. For example,

Chinese authorities often fail to take effective measures to prevent torture, such as by denying legal representation at the time of detention and not requiring the recording of all interrogations (or having lax implementation of relevant regulations). There is also a clear lack of accountability for perpetrators of torture, which allows it to go on unabated, and Chinese courts continue to allow evidence from coerced confessions to be presented in trial proceedings. These ongoing practices deprive individuals of protections laid out in the Convention against Torture (in articles 2, 12, and 15). Below, CHRD lists some of these protections, points out ways in which they are not enforced (including in Shen’s case), and notes claims about these protections that the Chinese government recently made in its responses to the Committee against Torture.

  • Access to a lawyer (Article 2, requirement to take effective measures to prevent torture): As widely documented, the right to legal representation after being taken into custody in China, which is stipulated by Article 37 of the Criminal Law, is often not protected. This situation persists even though Chinese government officials themselves have stated to the Committee (as far back as 1999) that the “early presence of a lawyer acts as a powerful deterrent against incidents of torture.” The lack of legal representation during interrogations can be especially problematic because that is the time when torture to coerce confessions most commonly occurs. In Shen Aibin’s case, he was reportedly tortured in police custody over a two-week period, during which time authorities denied Shen access to legal representation, and without any legal basis. He ultimately was in police custody for over three weeks before his lawyer was allowed to visit him.
  • Electronically record interrogations (Article 2, requirement to take effective measures to prevent torture): Chinese officials have not widely implemented relatively new requirements to use recording devices in interrogation chambers, which makes it hard to prove torture takes place and makes it easy for perpetrators to avoid accountability. According to the government, a 2012 amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law (Article 121) strongly encourages the use of audio and video recording of criminal interrogations, but does not make it mandatory. In addition, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate has issued rules stipulating that interrogations be recorded and videotaped. The failure of Chinese authorities to require recording interrogations in all cases weakens this potential deterrent to use torture, and there is no solid evidence to show that the procuratorial rules have made a difference in how officials treat individuals in police custody.
  • Hold torturers criminally accountable (Article 12, right to prompt and impartial investigation): The circumstances of Shen’s torture point to a sobering reality—such mistreatment goes on largely unabated in China, one major reason being that alleged torturers are not independently investigated for their actions, and very rarely held criminally accountable. The environment of impunity does nothing to dissuade state agents from committing abuse. Contrary to the government’s claims made to the Committee, as well as to other international bodies, there are are no mechanisms in China that ensure prompt and impartial investigation of torture allegations. In virtually all cases, procuratorial and public security bodies cannot conduct investigations of complaints without political interference from government or Party officials. While the Chinese government has maintained to the Committee that torturers are held criminally accountable, its “evidence” mostly consists of very general annual data on convictions for a few criminal offenses, as Chinese authorities are unwilling to disclose more in-depth information, including details of individual punishments. In fact, the few perpetrators of torture who are punished in China are given light sentences relative to the severity of their crimes.
  • Exclude from court evidence extracted by torture (Article 15): Shen’s coerced confession of criminal wrongdoing was used to convict him, in violation of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), which since 2012 has explicitly forbidden courts to consider this type of “evidence” when adjudicating a case. While CPL amendments on this issue technically brought Chinese law in line with the Convention, there are few signs that courts are excluding torture-induced evidence from legal proceedings. In providing information to the Committee, the Chinese government did not precisely deny the courts’ reliance on coerced evidence when it cited the use of Article 35 in the CPL, which states that self-incrimination alone must not result in conviction or sentencing. The government also did not provide evidence to back up its claim that excluding such evidence has become “consistent judicial practice” in China. The difficulty of proving acts of torture greatly hinders the effectiveness of complaints of mistreatment and the banning of evidence in courts. As seen in Shen’s case, police can use certain techniques to hide physical signs of abuse, which may leave only the testimony of a victim as evidence of mistreatment. Such testimony holds very little legal weight in a criminal justice system that provides so much protection to state agents who commit acts of torture.


Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 240 374 8937, reneexia@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator (English), +1 209 643 0539, victorclemens@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @VictorClemens

Frances Eve, Researcher (English), +852 6695 4083, franceseve@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter:@FrancesEveCHRD

Linda Wang, Program Coordinator (Mandarin, Cantonese, English), +1 917 426 0973, lindawang@chrdnet.com

[1] Rights Defense Network, “Torture Report: Shen Aibin – My Full Experience of Torture” (酷刑报告:沈爱斌:我所遭遇的酷刑经过), October 19, 2015.


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