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China Cracks Down on Torture and Forced Confessions

China's law enforcement organs will take a series of measures to crack down on the police practice of extracting confessions through torture, after a man was found to have been wrongly imprisoned for 11 years.

She Xianglin, 39, a former security guard in central China's Hubei Province, spent 11 years in jail after being convicted of murdering his wife. He was set free in April following the reappearance of the supposedly dead woman.

After his release, She told reporters that police had forced him to confess during the interrogation. "The police tortured me by not letting me sleep for 10 days and finally made me leave my finger mark on the documents which said an unidentifiable female body was She's wife and She murdered his own wife.

She is now making efforts to request state compensation for the torture he received. Meanwhile, China's law enforcement organs are reflecting on how to avoid such human rights violations in the future.

A senior official of the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) on Tuesday said the organization will put the supervision of the interrogation by torture on the top of its work agenda this year.

The SPP is now holding a meeting on supervising law enforcers' investigation work in Nanning, capital of southwestern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Participants decided to build up a long-term system to probe and rectify law enforcers' behavior of extorting confession by torture.

In the future, before undertaking prosecution, prosecutors must carefully ask the suspect if he or she was forced to make a false confession by police during interrogation and examine records made by police to the letter, to seek clues of forced confessions, said the official of the SPP.

He said if forcing confession by torture was spotted, prosecutors must report to the higher level prosecuting organ immediately and ask police to rectify the problem. If the torture is severe, police will be investigated and held legally responsible.

The SPP required that prosecutors must carefully hear criminal suspect's testimony on his/her guilt, at the same time respect their explanation on innocence. And if the criminal suspects report that they make false confession under torture, timely investigation must be launched.

Late 2004, Jia Chunwang, procurator-general of China's Supreme People's Procuratorate, made a report to China's top legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), saying that from January to August in 2004, the prosecutor organs nationwide had probed and dealt with more than 700 cases related to illegal detention and interrogation by torture, since a clause saying "the state respects and safeguards human rights" was put into the Constitution.

"Although strictly forbidden by law, forced confession is common in many places in China because the police are often under great pressure from above to solve criminal cases," a law professor who preferred to remain anonymous told Xinhua.

China's top legislature is deliberating an amendment bill on Offenses Against Public Order, which aims to not only increase punishment for the violation of public order, but to confine police power.

The amendment says police should collect evidence through comprehensive, objective and timely means. Forced confession is strictly forbidden and legally invalid. Police who extort confession through torture will be ascertained legal and administrative responsibility according to the severity of the case.

(Xinhua News Agency May 17, 2005)

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