[CHRB] Torture of Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Emblematic of Persistent Pattern of Official Reprisal & Abuse (1/1-7, 2016)

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[CHRB] Torture of Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Emblematic of Persistent Pattern of Official Reprisal & Abuse (1/1-7, 2016)

China Human Rights Briefing

January 1 – 7, 2016

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment & Punishment

Torture of Lawyer Shu Xiangxin Illustrates Persistence of Ill-treatment in China Despite Suggestions of Committee against Torture During UN Review of China

Detention center officials reportedly tortured defense lawyer Shu Xiangxin (舒向新), who was formally arrested on January 2.

Detention center officials reportedly tortured defense lawyer Shu Xiangxin (舒向新), who was formally arrested on January 2.

Human rights lawyer Shu Xiangxin (舒向新) was reportedly subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment in a detention center on January 4, in a case emblematic of the harsh reprisals and punishment that Chinese human rights lawyers face. The incident reflects the persistence of torture in China’s detention facilities. Torture continues despite the observations and suggestions put forth by the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) during its November 2015 review of China’s compliance with the Convention against Torture. China has been a party to the Convention since 1988.

Abruptly seized and formally arrested by police on January 2, Shu detailed his ordeal to his two lawyers who, after being denied access, eventually were permitted to visit him on January 4-5 at Jinan City No. 2 Detention Center in Shandong Province. During lawyer Cai Ying (蔡瑛)’s meeting with Shu on January 4, Shu described being subjected to torture and degrading treatment earlier that day. Shu told lawyer Cai that he was handcuffed, severely beaten, deprived of food and water, and forbidden from using the toilet. According to a signed statement by Shu, which the lawyer obtained, officer Zhang Zhongwei (仲伟), the detention center’s head of “discipline management,” cuffed Shu to a staircase after Shu had refused to perform hard labor inside the detention center. (Such labor is against detention center regulations.) Officer Zhang verbally assaulted Shu and repeatedly punched the lawyer in view of other officers, none of whom intervened. Eventually, Shu saw a pool of his blood form on the floor before losing consciousness. Detention center officers left him handcuffed to the staircase for seven hours. During another meeting with Shu on January 5, lawyer Cai and lawyer Li Fangping (李方平) saw visible injuries on Shu’s face and wrists. Shu told his lawyers that he would “rather be dead” than endure the kind of torture that he was subjected to.[1]

Chinese authorities detained Shu Xiangxin on suspicion of “defamation.” In the past few years, government officials have intimidated and harassed Shu as he took on cases of farmers who had lost land in Guan County while also defending victims charged with “extortion” for seeking state compensation for abuses by officials.

The egregious assault of Shu underscores the lack of protections from abuses for detainees in police custody in China. Like many other cases, Shu’s case demonstrates the persistence of torture by police and highlights the conditions under which torture in detention thrives. CAT raised problems of such abuse and torture in China during its review in November, including issues noted below. In December, CAT issued strong recommendations (in its “Concluding Observations”) for overhauling the system that has failed to prevent torture and punish torturers in China.

  • Unlawful blocking of lawyers’ access leaves detainees vulnerable to police torture: Shu’s lawyers were initially denied a meeting with Shu. Officials reportedly tortured him during the time the lawyers’ access was denied and also just before one of his lawyers was finally able to visit with him on January 4, 2016. As CAT noted, detainees in China are particularly vulnerable to torture upon first being taken into custody, and early presence of a lawyer is a strong deterrent to torture and a necessary preventive measure. In December, CAT recommended that China “amend legislation to allow access to a lawyer from the very outset of detention.”
  • Impunity enjoyed by torturers encourages persistence of torture: Lawyer Cai reportedly has filed a complaint about Shu’s mistreatment at the detention center, and procuratorate staff are said to have gone to look at Shu’s injuries. However, if the longstanding difficulties for holding torturers accountable in China offer any clue, there is virtually no chance of an independent investigation into the alleged acts of torture committed by officer Zhang, much less any sort of punishment. CAT has noted the pattern of impunity for torturers in China, and urged the government to “establish an independent oversight mechanism to ensure prompt, impartial and effective investigation into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment.”
  • Surveillance camera in lawyer-client meeting area but torture reportedly took place in an area without a video camera: Lawyer Li said that during their meeting on January 5, he noticed a large camera installed in their meeting room, though he did not know if it recorded his visit with Shu. Such a recording would violate China’s Criminal Procedure Law, which prohibits officials from videoing or monitoring meetings between lawyers and their clients (Article 37). Chinese detention centers tend to be equipped with an extensive system of cameras, which can intimidate lawyers and their clients during their visits (even if the cameras are not operating). Mistreatment of detainees often takes place outside of monitored areas; in Shu’s case, officer Zhang reportedly dragged him into a hallway and to a staircase to abuse him. CAT has recommended that China “ensures in practice that detainees are able to communicate with a lawyer in full confidentiality,” and has also noted the persistent problem of abuse that takes place beyond surveillance cameras in Chinese detention facilities.
  • Deprived liberty and enforced disappearance of human rights lawyers: The widespread detention of rights lawyers in China, many of whom, like Shu, may have been subjected to torture themselves, has become a common tactic for authorities to silence and punish these lawyers for defending their clients, especially in “politically sensitive” cases or when alleged government abuse is involved. Lawyers who are convicted on trumped-up charges, like Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) and Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), are banned from practicing law altogether. Last July, Shu was one of more than 300 individuals brought in for questioning and later released during the crackdown targeting lawyers. For continuing to tackle rights abuses despite the intimidation and risk, Shu has been arrested for “defaming” government officials. CHRD has confirmed that 19 lawyers and activists are still in police custody from the July 2015 crackdown, including a dozen held incommunicado under “residential surveillance in a police designated location” set to expire starting this week, and others who have disappeared into police custody. In December, CAT expressed deep concern about “the unprecedented detention and interrogation of, reportedly, more than 200 lawyers and activists since 9 July 2015.” CAT recommended that the Chinese government “ensure prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of all the human rights violations perpetrated against lawyers, and ensure that those responsible are tried and punished in accordance with the gravity of their acts and that the victims obtain redress.”

Shu Xiangxin’s recent mistreatment illustrates that little has changed since the UN Committee against Torture made recommendations intended to urge the Chinese government to abide by its international treaty obligations.


Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012,

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,


[1] “Torture Report: Lawyer Shu Xiangxin’s Complaint Against Torture in Detention Center” (酷刑报告:舒向新律师手稿控诉看守所遭遇的酷刑), January 7, 2016, Rights Defense Network (RDN); “Torture Report: Li Fangping Sees Shu Xiangxin Emerge From Near-Death Ordeal” (酷刑报告:李方平律师:会见舒向新,从“生不如死”中走来!), RDN, January 5, 2016; “Urgent Attention: Lawyer Shu Xiangxin Beaten, Tortured & Mistreated by Discipline Management Officer in Jinan City No. 2 Detention Center” (紧急关注:舒向新律师在济南第二看守所被管教暴殴及酷刑虐待), January 4, 2016, RDN.

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