Treatment of Prisoners in China

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) remains a country with many instances of widespread and systemic violations of human rights. The government of China maintains a political stranglehold over the legal system and actively suppresses views and opinions of dissenters. This often results in an arbitrary and a farcical judicial system. As the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are not accountable to any higher authority, it is common to see government and party officials abusing their power. This article highlights one of the most widespread and common forms of abuse; the torture and mistreatment of prisoners in China.

It is common for detainees and inmates to be tortured in Chinese prisons and detention centers. In spite of signing the UN Convention against Torture in 1998, the government of China has not put systems in place to prevent the ill treatment and torture of prisoners. State prosecutors consistently refuse to provide the results of autopsies to the families of people dying in custody even though the use of torture is apparent in several of these cases. Most of these cases of death in custody aren’t even investigated to determine the actual cause of death. Ordinary prisoners in China, as well as political prisoners, are subject to regular beatings, given low quality and insufficient food and put up in unhygienic conditions as part of the interrogation process to elicit the confessions or cooperation.

Prisoners have often reported the use of electric batons in beatings, rubber truncheons, painful use of leg irons along with handcuffs for long periods, long spells in solitary confinement and frequent food restrictions to induce starvation. While this is bad enough, there are reports of corrupt officials in prisons, labor camps and detention centers extorting large bribes from the families of the prisoners just to ensure that the prisoners can use the provisions of medicines and other daily supplies that the state allocates for them anyways.

The International Committee of the Red Cross along with the US Special Rapporteur on Torture and other humanitarian organizations haven’t yet been able to persuade the Chinese officials to allow unrestricted official visits to Chinese prisons to inspect the treatment meted out and the condition of the 1.2 million detainees and prisoners in China.

The use of the death penalty in the Chinese judicial process has seen a dramatic increase in the last few years. The anti crime campaigns launched by the Chinese government is partly responsible for the increase in the number of executions and death sentences. Unlike other countries, offences like theft, non violent property crimes, forgery and embezzlement can be punished by the death penalty.

In 1993, China had the dubious distinction of carrying out over three fourths of all executions worldwide. In fact, January 9, 1993 witnessed 356 prisoners in China being sentenced to death and 62 prisoners being executed. 2,564 people were sentenced to death in the year 1993 alone out of which 1,419 were confirmed to have been executed. The actual count of executions and death sentences is thought to be considerably higher than the official figures suggest. Not all defendants get a lawyer to defend them and some that do have no more than a couple of days to prepare the defense of a case that carries the death penalty. The basis for a large majority of the death sentences is forced confession and the verdict of the adjudication committees. This summarily violates the defendants’ rights to presumption of innocence, a public hearing and a fair trial.

Cases of Suspicious Deaths

The issue of ill treatment of prisoners in China was brought to public and worldwide attention by the death of 24 year old Li Qiaoming. While his death wasn’t a result of torture, if was indicative of the poor state of the prisons in China. As incredulous as it might sound, the initial statement by the police suggested that Li died while playing hide and seek with his fellow prisoners. However, according to the state owned Xinhua news agency, Li died after being beaten brutally in detention by three fellow inmates in the Jinning County, located in China’s Yunnan Province in the south. The widespread coverage of this issue sparked a heated debate across the country, especially since there were at least four other prisoners who died under suspicious circumstances in prisons. One of these was a 50 year old man, Li Wenyan who reportedly died while he was suffering from a nightmare according to a senior police official.

Prison deaths and the treatment of prisoners has always been a sensitive subject in China, but have attracted a lot of attention after being widely reported across the Chinese media and the internet. According to the English publication, China Daily, experts on the issue have been demanding the prison facilities to be managed by neutral parties.

Prison Time in China: The Inherent Risks

Xu Na was is serving a three year sentence after being arrested for being a member of the Falun Gong spiritual movement which had recently been outlawed and targeted by the Chinese officials. She now risks being ill treated and getting tortured in the prison. According to Amnesty International, she is a victim and a target for the Chinese authorities for simply exercising her right to choose and follow a religion.

Similarly, Xu Na was convicted of using a heretical organization to impede and undermine the peaceful implementation of law. Her trial saw Xu express her desire to appeal the sentence. Xu faces the terrible possibility of serving a second sentence in Chinese prisons after being imprisoned from 2001 to 2006 for allowing traveling members of Falun Gong, who were going to Beijing to participate in a protest, to stay in her apartment.

During her first stint in prison, Xu was subjected to torture, beatings, forced feeding, being tied up, and sleep deprivation. Given her terrible experience in prison, her concerns are not completely unfounded. This time, Xu and her husband were arrested after a routine search after the police discovered material related to Falun Gong. Her husband, Yu Zhou died while in detention, raising questions and suspicions of police brutality. Ever since her detention, Xu’s parents haven’t been allowed to visit her or speak with her.

Corrective Measures for This Situation

China’s Ministry of Public Security has repeatedly launched campaigns to try and instill greater respect for the law, human rights and professional ethics amongst prison officials. Despite the so called ‘effort’, nothing appears to have changed. China is still frequently criticized for the ill treatment of prisoners, and the Committee Against Torture remains deeply troubled by the continued allegations of widespread torture of prisoners and detainees in China.



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