UN Experts Press China on Use of Torture in Prisons

An enactment of a prisoner being tortured in China.

An enactment of a prisoner being tortured in China.

DHARAMSHALA:  U.N. experts pressed Chinese officials about the allegations of rampant use of torture in its prisons during a two-day scrutiny of China’s human rights record at a forum held in Geneva last week.

The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) questioned China on issues ranging from employing torture methods, including interrogation chairs, solitary confinement, medical access for detainees and prisoners and other related issues. It particularly requested information about political prisoners, including ethnic Tibetans and Uyghurs.

However, the Chinese delegation categorically denied holding any political prisoners or torturing them. It further evaded questions refusing to go into details about the number of police or prison guards prosecuted for torture and the treatment of high-profile prisoners, including several who died in custody.

“There are no such cases of political prisoners. The allegation of cruel treatment of suspects from ethnic minority groups is groundless,” said Jin Chunzi of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, adding that it uses solitary confinement only as a management tool.

“We use the interrogation chair to guarantee the safety of the detainee, to prevent the detainee from escaping, from self-harm or attacking other people. The chair is sometimes packaged with soft padding to increase a sense of comfort, a sense of safety,” he said, referring to the chair used during interrogation of prisoners by Chinese authorities.

Committee chairman Claudio Grossman said in his summary: “I was surprised to hear that solitary confinement is a ‘management tool’. I want clarification because it is certainly perceived as a penalty.”

The only political prisoner on whose case China responded pertained to Tibetan political prisoner Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who died while in Chinese custody on 12 July 2015.

Contrary to widespread media reports, the Chinese delegation claimed that Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche received adequate medical treatment and that his body was cremated according to local customs and his ashes scattered locally along with his family in attendance.

Golog Jigme, a former Tibetan political prisoner who escaped from Chinese prison in 2012, was present at the two-day CAT session. Voicing disappointment and outrage, he said, “I can honestly say there was not the slightest truth in anything they said today. Regarding the interrogation chair, which was highly debated today, they said it was for the detainee’s safety. Look at my wounds, on my hands and feet, in fact it was brutal torture.”

The Chinese delegation’s response at the CAT China review also evoked derision and outcries from rights activists and Chinese dissidents. “Not only did the delegation provide false information to the committee but they also failed or refused to answer specific questions based on allegations made by victims, human rights organizations and others,” they said.

Wu Hailong, China’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations headed the Chinese delegation at the two-day CAT session.

The Committee Against Torture (CAT) is the body of 10 independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading treatment or Punishment by its State parties.