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China bans court evidence obtained by torture

June 18, 2010

By TINI TRAN
The Associated Press
May 31, 2010

BEIJING -- China has issued new rules saying
evidence obtained through torture and threats
cannot be used in criminal prosecutions and said
such evidence would be thrown out in death penalty cases that are under appeal.

The new regulations -- posted on the central
government's website Sunday -- make it clear that
evidence with unclear origins, confessions
obtained through torture, and testimony acquired
through violence and threats are invalid. This is
the first time Beijing has explicitly stated that
evidence obtained under torture or duress is illegal and inadmissible in court.

"Since the system was not perfect, the standards
on reinforcing the law were not unified and the
law executors were not equally competent.
Problems occurred in the handling of cases and
they should not be ignored," according to a statement on the website.

The regulations were released jointly by the
Supreme People's Court, Supreme People's
Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security,
the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry
of Justice, according to a statement on the website.

Legal experts in China say the new rules
constitute major progress in protecting the legal rights of defendants.

One of the regulations pertains to how death
penalty cases should be reviewed, including a
rule that illegally obtained evidence should be invalid.

A second rule sets out guidelines on how evidence
should be obtained in criminal cases, which
explicitly bans the use of force or intimidation on defendants and witnesses.

"The issue of illegally obtained evidence has
long been a controversial one in China and now
they made a big step forward in this respect,"
said Fan Yu, a law professor at Renmin University
Law School who specializes in the judicial system.

The rulings are especially important for death
penalty cases, where a flawed system has led to
the deaths of several criminal suspects by torture in detention centers.

"Death sentences are irreversible. Any tiny
mistake could cost people's lives," she said.
"There's serious lesson to be drawn from those cases."

China executes more people annually than any
country in the world, though it does not release
an official count. Rights group Amnesty
International estimated China put at least 1,718 people to death in 2008.

In 2008, China's top court said about 15 percent
of death sentence verdicts by lower courts were
found to have problems, the China Daily newspaper reported Monday.

The frequent use of torture by police to obtain
confessions was highlighted earlier this month in
the case of Zhao Zuohai, a man who spent 11 years
in jail after being beaten into confessing the
murder of a man who wasn't even dead.

After the man he supposedly killed returned to
their hometown in central Henan province, Zhao,
57, was freed and given $96,000 in government
compensation. After his release, Zhao said he was
forced to confess because police beat him during
interrogations and deprived him of sleep for days.

The case put an embarrassing spotlight on China's
often corrupt justice system. Three police
officers accused of torturing Zhao have been
arrested, while the chief justice who presided
over the case was suspended pending further investigation.

* Associated Press researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report.
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