03/21/2006, 00.00
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UN anti-torture agency calls for radical court, police reforms

Manfred Nowak, chief investigator of the UN anti-torture agency, has confirmed "widespread use of torture in China" and called for the "immediate release of people jailed for exercising their right to free speech or religion".

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – To stop the "widespread use of torture in China", Beijing must make radical changes in its justice and police systems, said the top investigator of the UN anti-torture agency. A new report by Manfred Nowak on crimes committed in Chinese prisons was published on 10 March and made public yesterday on the United Nations website.

The UN investigator called for an immediate halt to execution for economic and nonviolent crimes, for the abolition of "increasingly vague" state security laws used against dissidents, and for the release of people jailed for exercising their right to free speech or religion.

Nowak is the first UN authority to visit Chinese prisons in 15 years. He said "police across China" commonly torture even low-level criminal suspects during interrogation: to stop this practice, it is "essential that videotaping of police interrogations becomes routine". Further, judges in Chinese courts "should publicly ask suspects if they have been mistreated by police officers." As for Beijing, it should "publish and make available for consultation death penalty statistics and relevant sentences".

The UN envoy had already voiced similar views after his visit in November last year, but he was harshly criticized by Beijing. Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry for Foreign Affairs, said on 6 December: "China banned torture in 1996 and punishes those who use it, even the police. Nowak was here just for two short weeks and his report is evidently biased."

But many Chinese lawyers and human rights groups say intimidation and torture – physical and psychological – are common "before, during and after interrogations, in trials, in prison and in police-run labour camps".

One case highly publicized by the media across the country confirms this: last April, a man condemned to death for his wife's murder was freed after 11 years of imprisonment. It turned out that the woman had simply escaped with another man and she reappeared on hearing about her husband's fate, to testify so he would be released. During the trial, the lawyer said the man had been tortured by police to extract a confession to committing a crime that never happened.

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