China responds to UN on torture record

A chair used in Chinese prisons to hold prisoners in stress positions, a form of torture
A chair used in Chinese prisons to hold prisoners in stress positions, a form of torture

7th February 2017

The response includes the claim that there is no suppression of activists or defence lawyers by the Chinese state

China has replied to a damning assessment issued by the United Nations’ anti-torture body, nearly two months after the deadline for its delivery.

The response was submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in late January. The information supplied by China does not address all of the questions raised by the Committee when it reviewed China’s record on torture in November 2015.

It also contained some striking claims, including the assertion that there was no suppression of activists or defence lawyers by the Chinese government.

A pain that never leaves

China underwent its review at the UN’s Committee against Torture in November 2015. In its concluding observations, released two months later, the Committee stated that in China "the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system."

Despite prohibiting torture under its own laws, and being a signatory to the United Nations' Convention Against Torture, China has consistently failed to take the necessary steps to eliminate torture in Tibet, and Free Tibet continues to receive evidence of Tibetans being tortured and ill-treated in prison or police detention.

Torture techniques used in detention facilities and prisons include beatings, sometimes with heavy objects such as cables and metal bars, sleep deprivation and holding prisoners in cramped and solitary conditions.

Torture survivor Golog Jigme alongside Free Tibet Director Eleanor Byrne Rosengren at the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva in 2015

Golog Jigme, a monk who now lives in Switzerland having escaped Tibet, was jailed three times between 2008 and 2012. He recalls being brutally tortured, including being chained to a burning stove and to an iron chair in which he was held in stress positions, beaten and shocked with electricity. He told researchers:

"Whenever I remember that chair I feel scared, even to this day. I felt like it would be better to die than survive being tortured on that chair. I was kept on the chair days and nights. At one point, my feet got swollen and, to my horror, all my toenails fell off."

During China’s review at the Committee Against Torture in November 2015,  a Chinese Public Security Ministry official told the Committee that such chairs were in fact used "to guarantee the safety of the detainee”, and that the chair is “sometimes packaged with soft padding to increase a sense of comfort, a sense of safety."

To coincide with the review, in late 2015 Free Tibet launched its Stop Torture in Tibet campaign. The campaign urged China to take action to eliminate torture and to respond to the requests for information from the Committee Against Torture. 5,000 people signed up to the petition, which was delivered to the Chinese Minister of Justice last autumn.

A selective response

As part of its concluding observations, the Committee issued several follow-up questions to China, as well as a series of recommendations that China should implement to improve its record on torture. It requested that Beijing responded to them by 9 December with an update on the steps it had taken to implement the recommendations.

Despite having a full year to respond to listed concerns the official Chinese response only came in recent days.

As well as failing to address several of the Committee’s questions, the response also claims: “There is no ‘suppression’ of ‘rights defence lawyers’ or ‘activists’ by the Chinese government.”

Free Tibet has recorded numerous examples of Tibetan activists being arrested, held without trial and tortured. Several of these cases were described in great detail by Free Tibet’s research partner Tibet Watch in a submission to the Committee in 2015. The Committee, in its concluding observations, stated that it had "received numerous reports from credible sources that document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans."

China's response also leans heavily on China’s broad and liberally-applied laws against state security crimes, which have been used to punish Tibetan activists and Tibetans peacefully expressing their religion or culture.

Responding to the direct accusation that people were arbitrarily detained, the response asserted that China’s Criminal Procedure Law requires family members of detainees to be informed within 24 hours of them being taken in to custody. However, the response goes on to  state that this regulation does not apply where “ crimes of endangering state security or terrorist activities are suspected and the notification might hinder the investigation”.

The language advocate Tashi Wangchuk, arrested after appearing in a New York Times documentary about his language advocacy, was held for two months last year before his family found out his location and the reason for his arrest. He remains in detention and at risk of torture.

Take action

Tashi Wangchuk remains in detention and could stand trial at any time, despite no evidence of him having committed a crime. He faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty. Contact your ambassador to China asking them to raise his case with the authorities.