Coerced Confession in Henan Leads to Wrongful Criminal Conviction

July 26, 2006

Judges in Henan province convicted a man for rape and murder on the strength of his confession under torture, according to a September 20 report on the New York Times Web site. Public security officials relied on the statements of three child witnesses to detain and interrogate the suspect. The court ordered a closed trial, excluded defense witnesses from the courtroom, and ended the proceedings within several hours. The suspect avoided execution only after a local retired soldier voluntarily confessed to the crime, according to the report.

This case is the latest in a series of wrongful convictions that raises concerns about the use of torture in the Chinese criminal justice system. Investigators extracted confessions under torture from Nie Shubin and She Xianglin, whose wrongful convictions caused a public outcry and intensified calls to consider broad reforms to China's criminal justice system.

Since late March, the Chinese news media have covered numerous instances of police abuse and convictions based on questionable evidence. From January to August 2004, procuratorates nationwide probed and resolved over 700 cases related to illegal detention and interrogation by torture, according to a Xinhua report. These miscarriages of justice undermine the Chinese government's efforts to strengthen the judicial system and uphold China's criminal laws. Article 43 of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) forbids the use of torture to extract a confession and guarantees criminal defendants the opportunity to furnish evidence relevant to their case. Although national Chinese regulations currently in force do not require courts to exclude illegally obtained evidence, the Supreme People's Procuratorate confirmed in May 2005 a new policy requiring procurators to exclude illegally obtained testimony when deciding whether or not to indict a suspect. A July 23 Beijing News article reviewing recent discussion and debate over amendments to the CPL has identified further strengthening of legal protections to prevent torture as a mandatory focus of the CPL amendment.