China to host UN torture envoy in 2005

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Manfred Nowak, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture is set to visit  China this year. His planned visit comes in view of the high number of innocent people condemned by Chinese authorities – to prison but also to the death penalty – because of confessions extracted under torture. The UN said its envoy will arrive on 21 November for a two-week visit.

Nowak will visit Xinjiang, where a population of ethnic Uighur Muslims live and Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Several of China's most high-profile political prisoners have been Tibetan or Uighur, accused of instigating separatism in the far west. The US embassy in Beijing has said that as a condition for the rapporteur's visit, China had agreed to include unannounced visits to prisons and guarantees there would be no reprisals against anyone who spoke to him.

In the past year, China has condemned forced confessions and asked courts to think twice before handing down the death penalty, but it still remains one of the most highly criticized nations across the world for its arbitrary verdicts. In 2004, 3,797 executions were reported in 25 countries, including 3,400 in China, meaning 89.5% of the total. At the last National People's Assembly, one delegate Chen Zhonglin, said China puts "around 10,000 people" to death each year, but according to Beijing policy, official statistics on the issue are considered as "state secrets".

One of the cases which sparked outrage happened in April, when a man was released after 11 years in prison – he had been condemned to life imprisonment for killing his wife – when his supposed victim turned up not only alive but with another husband. The man said he had been tortured to confess to the crime and he condemned the brutality of Chinese police.

China has the largest prison population in the world and a legal system defined by the US Department of State as "characterised by mistreatment of prisoners" and an "egregious" lack of due process in the use of the death penalty.