China astounds UN, activists by denying it held political prisoners, tortured detainees

UN Committee against Torture.
UN Committee against Torture.

(, Nov20, 2015) – Activists have on Nov 18 condemned China for lying to the Geneva-based UN Committee Against Torture by claiming it did not have any political prisoner while also insisting that it had prohibited torture. The committee was hearing China’s report on its compliance with the UN convention against torture and related inhuman practices banned by the treaty. Activists have said China not only provided false information to the committee but also failed or refused to answer specific questions based on allegations made by victims, human rights organizations and others.

During the two-day hearing, the committee asked China questions on issues ranging from use of 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 24 Tibetans and a number of Uyghurs. However, the Chinese delegation, responded defensively, refusing to go into specific cases, said a group called Tibet Advocacy Coalition in a statement Nov 18.

The only political prisoner on whose case China responded specifically pertained to the death of Tibetan political prisoner Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in Jul 2015. It claimed that he had received adequate medical treatment, that his body was cremated “according to local customs”, and his ashes scattered locally with his family in attendance. Reports had said, however, that the Tibetan lama had received little or no medical attention, that he had been tortured and possibly poisoned and that his body was cremated in prison rather than being delivered to his family or monastery, and his ashes while initially delivered to his family was later snatched away by the authorities.

Also, senior Chinese officials evaded questions about the number of police or prison guards prosecuted for torture and the treatment of high-profile prisoners, several of whom died in custody, reported Reuters Nov 18. Li Wensheng, deputy director-general of the legal affairs department at the Ministry of Public Security, simply said, “The Chinese government prohibits torture and prosecutes any personnel or state organs for torture activities.”

The 10 independent UN experts had pressed Chinese officials Nov 17 about persistent allegations that torture was rife in China’s police stations and prisons, especially of political prisoners, and about deaths in custody. However, Jin Chunzi of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, said there were no “political prisoners” in China while also insisting, “The allegation of cruel treatment of suspects from ethnic minority groups is groundless.”

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

That was not all. When the experts questioned the use of electric shocks and rigid interrogation chairs which left inmates in painful positions for long periods, Li’s response was, “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.”

Still, Wu Hailong, China’s ambassador who headed its delegation, said, “China’s efforts in combating torture will never cease.” However, he said his government was “looking forward to an objective, impartial and professional evaluation” from the Committee.


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