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Rights groups claim China still tortures its opponents

Lawyers defending Christians, Uighurs and other minorities among those at risk

ucanews.com reporter, Beijing

ucanews.com reporter, Beijing

Published: November 12, 2015 10:32 AM GMT

Updated: November 11, 2015 10:51 PM GMT

Rights groups claim China still tortures its opponents

The shadows of Falungong practitioners, who are acting out a scene of Chinese police torture, are seen during an October 2008 protest in Jakarta. (Photo by Adek Berry/AFP)

China continues to use an array of medieval torture methods against opponents with religious groups a main target, rights groups claimed ahead of a United Nations appraisal on the issue.

Despite promises from Beijing to tackle the problem, a new Amnesty International report alleged that torture was widespread against lawyers, including those defending Christians, Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists and the Falungong spiritual movement.

"Unless somebody dies, very few people are held to account for torturing others. This is particularly obvious in cases of so-called ‘enemies of the state’ – dissidents and religious believers," said lawyer Tang Jitian, one of 37 lawyers interviewed from across China for the report, which was released Nov. 12.

Tang himself said he was tortured by security officials in 2014 after investigating a secret detention facility in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

"I was stripped to an iron chair, slapped in the face, kicked on my legs and hit so hard over the head with a plastic bottle filled with water that I passed out," he said.


'Daily reality'

China faces the U.N.’s Committee Against Torture in Geneva on Nov. 18 and 19, with a host of rights groups having released detailed accusations in recent months.

"Torture remains a daily reality in China, and this is a critical moment for Beijing to answer tough questions about why this problem persists," Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Among the most shocking cases in recent years is that of Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng who was an emotionless zombie — "basically unintelligible", according to his lawyer — following his release from three years in solitary confinement in August 2014.

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Gao said he was tortured with an electric baton to the face during his latest stint in detention. He has spent the past nine years in and out of prison, house arrest and ‘black jails’ after defending other Christians, religious and ethnic minorities and members of the banned Falungong group.

A further 245 lawyers have been targeted by police since July. Of these, 30 are still missing or in police custody, including Zhang Kai, a Christian lawyer who helped churches defend themselves from a cross-removal campaign in Zhejiang province.

"Amnesty International considers all of them to be at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment," the group said.

In early November, exiled Uighur groups submitted a report to the U.N. on torture in restive Xinjiang province, accusing Beijing of the widespread use of forced confessions under duress. That followed another torture report submitted to the U.N. by Tibetan exile groups in March documenting cases of Buddhist dissidents dying following torture in prison.

In July, 65-year-old Buddhist monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was found dead in his cell in Chengdu after alleged torture during 13 years in prison on bombing charges. Authorities said he died of a heart attack and forcibly cremated his body before an autopsy.

Golog Jigme, a Tibetan Buddhist monk who escaped China last May after facing detention and torture for making a film on the Dalai Lama, told ucanews.com last month that Beijing was fueling a dangerous cycle of violence.

"What they are doing is they are encouraging – through these drastic actions – Tibetans to protest against them and they are clearly showing that we can’t live under them," he said by telephone from Switzerland, where he lives in exile.

Although China became among the first signatories to the Convention Against Torture in 1988, Beijing did not allow a U.N. inspection at detention facilities until 2005.

The same year, China began to publicize efforts to tackle torture, admitting the practice was widespread for the first time as it installed recording equipment in police interrogation centers.

Since then, the government and state media have mostly issued public rebuttals of accusations it still practices widespread torture.

"In recent years, China has undergone great reforms," read a June editorial in the nationalistic tabloid Global Times, following U.S. government claims of torture. "China’s judicial organs have released rules to prevent the use of torture in confessions and law enforcement bodies are under stricter supervision by the public."

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