20080310-police in Bejing julie chao.jpg
Beijing riot police
By some estimates two million people have been arbitrarily detained in China. According to Amnesty International there are currently about 2,000 people in Chinese jails for political crimes and 230,000 people are in prison or labor camps who have not been charged of a crime. Thousands of Tibetan monks and nuns have been arbitrarily detained.

An unpopular law that allowed police to detain people traveling without resident permits was changed in the mid 2000s after a person detained under the law was beaten to death. The law was widely abused by police who would often detain migrants and hold them until a bribe was paid.

Attention was focused on detainment laws was also raised when the three-year-old daughter of a woman detained for shoplifting starved to death in her apartment while the woman was in prison. Once a man was illegally detained for 10 years because police could not gather enough evidence to convict him in court.

When Beijing is criticized about its detainment rules by the United States, the Chinese point out that hundreds of terrorist suspects have been detained without trial at Guantanamo Bay.

Torture in China

20111030-Human rights in China Wangfujing Street 2.jpg
police on Wangfujing Street in Beijing
According to a 2005 report by Manfred Nowak, the first United Nations human rights investigator to visit China, torture by authorities on detainees is widespread and “a culture of fear” is pervasive. According to the report such abuses can only be eliminated by overhauling criminal laws, giving more power to judges and abolishing labor camps. Nowak complained that there were numerous attempts to “obstruct or restrict” his investigation.

Torture methods used by Chinese authorities, according to the United Nations, have included denying food; using electric shocks, sleep deprivation, burning cigarettes, hoods, and blindfolds; submersing detainees in water or sewage; denying medical treatment, forcing detainees to maintain awkward position for long periods of time; exposing them to extreme heat and cold, and forcing prisoners to squat in a small metal box for days. People sentenced to death or waiting for an appeal are regularly handcuffed and shackled for 24 hours a day and can not eat or use a toilet without the help of other prisoners. Most tortures are designed not to leave any visible marks or scars.

One tortured prisoner wrote in letter smuggled-out of his labor camp, "On Nov. 8 they begun taking me to the workshop and hanging me from a pillar with my hands cuffed above my head and my feet barely touching the floor, every day for more than 10 hours." "On March 12, they caught me writing a petition about prison conditions. They started beating and kicking me again, and hitting my head with an electric baton." A dissident told the United Nations investigation that he was forced to remain immobile in bed for 85 days with his hands held on the side of his head. If his hands moved while he was sleeping he was woken up and told to resume his assigned position.

Confessions Gained Through Torture in China

Suspects are routinely tortured to extract forced confessions. According to the United Nations report, “Very often an individual police officer is not instructed to use torture but is under pressure to extract a confession, even though under Chinese law, confessions obtained through torture are inadmissable in court. According to the United Nations study 126 people were killed, including some during police interrogations, in 1993 from torture and 115 on 1994.

Sleep deprivation is a common tactic used by government officials conducting interrogations. One government official told the Daily Yomiuri, “They deprive people of sleep by taking turns to question them. Most people usually give in after three or four days. Police officers can be swayed with connections, but you have to concede defeat if you are arrested by them [government officials].

In December 2003, a man was sentenced to death by China’s highest court even though eight prison guards admitted torturing him to extract a confession. A Chinese legal expert said the decision was made because the government didn’t want a precedent set that confessions could be disallowed if they were extracted by torture.

Confessions gained through torture are thought to be common in China, though rights advocates and defense lawyers say such mistreatment gains public notice only when a defendant dies in custody. In some recent cases, jailhouse deaths have spurred protests and alarmed the authorities, who are eager to maintain social stability. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 31, 2010]

In a rare admission of the problem, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, which carries out investigations and prosecutions, issued a report in 2003 acknowledging that what it characterized as forced confessions had led to the deaths of 460 people and serious injuries for 117 others.

Hang Xingshui, a defense lawyer, told the New York Times, Legal workers are often under so much pressure to get cases closed no matter what it takes. In China the stakes are high because so many people are put to death. In 1998, the government authorized the release of a book called “The Law Against Extorting a Confession by Torture”, which outlined 64 case studies of people being tortured. Victims described in the book were tortured to death using electric cattle prods, drowned in buckets, burned in stoves, hanged and beaten to death.

China Bans Evidence Gained Through Torture

In May 2010, Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Top judicial and law enforcement bodies in China issued new guidelines that seek to halt the use of torture in obtaining confessions or witness testimony, especially in death penalty cases. The rules would nullify evidence gathered through violence or intimidation and give defendants the ability to challenge confessions presented during their trials.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 31, 2010]

“The new regulations were issued weeks after the authorities conceded that the confession used to erroneously convict a farmer for a murder was based on torture. The case came to light only after the supposed victim turned up alive and the defendant had spent 10 years in prison. It has provoked national outrage.” (See Henan Murder Victim Surfaces Alive, Crime).

“Judicial practice in recent years shows that slack and improper methods have been used to gather, examine and exclude evidence in various cases, especially those involving the death penalty, said a statement released by the central government. Although such provisions are a basic feature of modern criminal codes, legal experts said it was the first time Chinese law has explicitly spelled out rules for the admissibility of prosecutorial evidence.”

20111106-laogai Museum  slide4.jpg

Crimes by Policemen in China

Chinese police have been accused of being involved in prostitution, gambling, drug dealing and smuggling. One policeman was sentenced to death after he killed a bicyclist while driving drunk. He reportedly was so intoxicated he dragged the victim 1,500 meters before bystanders told him to stop.

In rural areas police have been accused of being “protective umbrellas” for criminal gangs. They have been arrested for heroin smuggling and counterfeiting and often fail to investigate murders. If people complain they are beaten, sometimes fatally by police.

Corrupt officials and businessmen routinely use the police as their hired guns and pressure judges into putting innocent people behind bars.Police often act as protection services for the highest bidder rather than law enforcement agencies. Salaries often are paltry so they turn to local businessmen to employ them as enforcers and thugs. In some cases they have kidnaped customers who were behind in their payments and held them unto relatives paid up and tortured, imprisoned and publically humiliated business rivals.

In June 2003, police in Chengdu arrested a woman?a drug addict?for theft and locked her three-year-old daughter at home with no food. The girls died after 18 days. The mother had asked police to contact her sister to take of the child but no one was able to find the sister and failed to tell anyone that could have helped the child. Internet chat lines were overwhelmed by chatter on the issue and criticism of the police.

Police Officer Faces Charges over Deadly Crash

In November 2011, the China Post reported: “A senior police officer in China could receive the death penalty after he killed five people and injured another three in a traffic accident that sparked violent protests, state media said Monday. Wang Yinpeng was allegedly drunk when he collided with two streetlights in the central province of Henan on Saturday, which fell on a group of migrant workers waiting to catch a bus, the Global Times newspaper said. [Source: China Post, November 1, 2011]

Wang, head of the police station in Liangzhu township, has been charged with “endangering public security by dangerous means” and could be given the death sentence if convicted, the official Xinhua news agency said.Migrant workers waiting to catch a bus to the eastern province of Zhejiang to pick oranges started to protest after police ordered a funeral home to remove the bodies, reports said.

Fearing police were trying to destroy evidence, the workers smashed several police cars and hearses and riot police were called to “maintain order,” the Global Times said. Gruesome photos published by state media appear to show dozens of people standing around a severely battered police car and at least two people crushed underneath a streetlight.

Police Brutality in China

A 2008 United Nations report accused Chinese police of using torture. The panel who put it together said they were “deeply concerned about the continued allegations, corroborated by numerous Chinese legal sources, of the routine and widespread use of torture and illegal treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings.” The Chinese government called the report “untrue and slanderous.”

Police brutality is a serious problem. There a number newspaper stories in the early 2000s about police beatings and killings in Guangdong Province. The magazine Crime Research found that 47 percent of criminal suspects polled said they had suffered police brutality while being questioned.

Even foreign journalists are not immune to brutal treatment from police. Todd Carrel, a former bureau chief in Beijing for ABC news, wrote in National Geographic, "In June 1992...I reported for ABC on a man who, all alone, showed up unfurl a protest banner...My price for documenting his actions was severe and unexpected. I was kicked and punched by a group of plainclothes policemen, one of whom flailed my head with a bag of rocks. The beating left me hobbled with lasting injuries. I still have difficulty walking, sitting and standing."

In March 2010, Xu Gengrong, 19-year-old charged with murdering a former girlfriend, died after eight days in police detention. He was taken to the hospital after turning yellow and having difficulty breathing. An autopsy revealed that he had been starved, his nasal cavity was clogged with blood, the top of his head was covered with bruises and there was a build up of fluid in his brain, A classmate, who was detained at the same police center said, “I was kept awake, beaten until my nose bled and my arms grew numb from carrying a pile of bricks on my back.” [Source: Jane Macartney, Times of London ]

In central Hunan Provence, two teenagers charged with robbery died within four days of each other. One had a large open wound and his wrists were black and blue. These and other reports of abuse goaded the Ministry of Public Security to launch a three-month campaign against prison abuse.

In January 2008, Hubei Province inspectors beat a bystander to death after he used his cellphone to film them breaking up a protest against a waste dump. In 2010, a Shanghai watermelon peddler was left brain-damaged after a scuffle with five officers. One violence-soaked video game, available for download online, features Chinese-trained inspectors who assault street vendors. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, December 1, 2010]

See Corruption

Law Enforcers Textbook Recommends Violence in China

A training textbook telling urban law enforcers how to use violence has drawn outrage in China, after extracts were published on the web. The advice includes avoiding witnesses and not worrying whether they will harm the person they are trying to subdue. The most controversial sectionreads: “In dealing with the subject, take care to leave no blood on the face, no wounds on the body, and no people in the vicinity.” [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, April 23, 2009]

Extracts from The “Practice of City Administrator Law Enforcement” “by the Beijing City Administration Bureau,” were posted by Zhao Yang, an enforcer from Nanjing, who said: “Even as a chengguan myself, I felt very shocked when I read the book.” but added, “The book also has useful instructions on how to control [difficult] situations and how to avoid further conflicts and even control your temper.

Police Accused of Killing Suspect in China

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “When the police came for Wan Jianguo, almost exactly a year ago, the salesman saw no reason to worry. “The last words he said to me as he was taken away were: 'Wife, I will be fine,'” said Wu Peifen. But when Wan left custody one month later he was carried out, his corpse covered with the marks of the beatings and electric shocks he had endured.” [Source:Tania Branigan, The Guardian, July 1, 2009]

“Now his widow is urging the government to crack down on police brutality to prevent further deaths. Speaking as four officers went on trial today, in Nanchang City, Jiangxi province, charged with inflicting intentional harm or obtaining confession with torture, she warned that more families would suffer otherwise.”

Junior officers have claimed that a senior official told his men to “use violence to control violence” before they interrogated Wan. The official denied the allegation. Local press have also reported claims that heavy publicity surrounding the case — concerning the deaths of six people at a Nanchang hospital — had increased pressure for a result. An unnamed official said a senior officer promised that whoever solved it would be acclaimed as a “second grade hero and model.”

“According to prosecutors, during the interrogation police hung Wan upside down, punched him, shocked him with stun guns and beat him with sticks as they interrogated him — stopping only when they realized he was not breathing. He died of damage to the heart and lungs due to the severe beatings...Wu said: “The moment I saw his body, my heart was broken. There were 60 to 70 marks on his head and body indicating he was tortured. I could not bear it.”

“I was told that usually people can only take 30 minutes of what they did to him and will say whatever they are asked to say, but he did not because it was not the truth.” Wan was detained in connection with an inquiry into the deaths at the hospital caused by tainted human immunoglobulin. He worked for a sales firm, an intermediary between the pharmaceutical firm and hospital, but his wife said he did not even deal with the protein.” Professor Li Yunlong, of the Jiangxi Academy of Social Sciences law faculty, said a law passed in 1979 had made it clear that coercing confessions was illegal. “If cases happened in the early 80s people would kind of understand it — but for this to happen 20 years later is unacceptable.”

Student's Death Prompts Outrage

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “This much is certain: on a freezing January evening, a 23-year-old student boarded a train to inner Mongolia, to spend the Chinese new year with his family. Zhao Wei never reached home. By early next morning, he was dead. Police said he had jumped to his death from a building at a railway station halfway along the line. But an online letter signed in his parents' names offers another, chilling version of events. It alleges he was led away by railway police after a petty dispute with train staff; that his corpse was covered in unexplained injuries; that officials had "left a hundred questions unanswered" and that he was murdered. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian , April 1, 2011]

“Perhaps it was the letter's anguish that spoke to its readers. Perhaps it was Zhao's ordinariness. Perhaps it was underlying distrust of officials, fuelled by a series of death in custody scandals. Whatever the reason, it seized attention: within a few days internet users had forwarded two posts about the case more than 100,000 times on the country's most popular microblog. But shortly afterwards the appeal disappeared from the Chinese website hosting it and the news report on the case was deleted from most sites.”

In March 2011, state news agency Xinhua issued the official verdict. A careful investigation had found conclusive evidence that Zhao got off the train at Daqing in Heilongjiang "due to his own reasons; fell off the building while he was climbing over a fence and died from severe brain injury". There had been no dispute with the train crew or passengers. With no further details forthcoming, the findings raise more questions than they answer. Why did Zhao climb off the train at an unknown station hundreds of miles from home in the middle of the night? What was he doing on the building when he fell and why was he climbing its fence? "So Zhao Wei committed suicide — the statement chills the heart of those who still have hope for this society," wrote one person. Another declared his suspicion more bluntly: "They killed you because they knew that if they did, they wouldn't be held accountable."

According to the online letter, Zhao moved carriages at about 10pm, telling a fellow student that he seemed to have upset the conductor by complaining that an attendant had ridiculed him in a disagreement over a seat change. It went on: "At around 3am, the railway police came and asked Zhao Wei to come with them. "When this classmate next saw Zhao Wei, [his] eyes were already black and blue, and his life was gone." Photographs purportedly of Zhao showed a young man with a blackened, swollen right eye and marks on his jaw and by his ear. "There were three wounds inside and outside his left ear — wounds in two places on his right lower jaw — a large purple bruise on his right hip and buttock, and a wound in the middle — five wounds on his right groin, and his scrotum had swollen up to the size of a pear. There were many wounds on both hands, and his left wrist bore purplish red marks that suggested he had been handcuffed," the letter added.

The Xinhua article published this week said all Zhao's injuries resulted from his fall. It added that his family had witnessed a re-examination of his body, which had subsequently been cremated, and had no objection to the investigation's results. "From the brief glimpse we were given in China's microblogs and a single mainstream media report, it seems the Zhao Wei case epitomised many issues of concern to ordinary Chinese. Most importantly, though, I think it spoke to the desire for real answers and for real justice," David Bandurski of the China Media Project, which has archived much of the deleted material relating to the case told The Guardian . "This was a tragedy that might befall any Chinese family. Would this family be able to find justice against vested political interests determined to cover up the truth and avoid responsibility? Unfortunately, this single Xinhua release, claiming against a background of complete silence that justice has been served, suggests that the answer to that question is no."

Riots Caused Police Abuse in China

In December 2004, huge riots broke out in a village of migratory workers in Guangdong Province southern China after police allegedly beat to death a 15-year-old migrant accused of stealing a bicycle. Hong Kong newspapers reported that more than 50,000 migrant participated in the riot.

In December 2004, seven people were killed and dozens were injured in a riot in Da Lang village in Guangdong Province southern China after police allegedly beat to death a relative of a student injured in traffic accident, following a dispute over compensation.

In November 2004, two police officers were killed in Wanrong County in Shanxi Province when enraged construction workers attacked a police station after a traffic dispute.

In June 2007, hundreds of students from universities in Zhengzhou, Henan Province battled police and burned cars after street inspectors beat up a female student. It was not clear why the female student was beat up. Students protests have been rare since Tiananmen square.

In January 2008, large protests were held in front of the city hall in Tianmen, near Wuhan in Hubei Province after a man was beaten to death as he tried to photograph an altercation between villagers and officials with his cell phone.

The victim, Wei Wenhua, a 41-year-old construction company executive, came across the scene by chance in his car. He stopped as 50 urban administrative inspectors, backed up by cheng guan parapolice, were preparing to confront a group of villagers — angry about heaps of garbage dumped near their home — trying to stop a truck from dumping more garbage. When the inspectors and parapolice saw the cell phone the turned on the executive and attacked him for five minutes.

Family members of the victim said that thousands showed up at the protests. A Communist party official denied that any protest took place. The incident was picked up by bloggers and chat lines. Government authorities responded by placing 100 people under investigation and detaining or removing from office several government officials.

In 2010, hundreds of citizens in Kunming, the Yunnan provincial capital, rioted after false rumors spread that chengguan officers had killed a vendor. More than a dozen police or chengguan officers were injured in the nighttime episode; 14 government vehicles were overturned or set on fire.

Revenge Killing for Police Brutality

In July 2008, Yang Jia, a 28-year-old unemployed man, forced his way into a Shanghai police station and killed six policemen in a stabbing spree. A local newspaper reported that the attack was revenge for torture and beatings by police in which he sustained a concussion and lost three teeth after being accused cutting in a train station line. On another occasion he was beaten and tortured after being accused of stealing a bicycle he had rented. In the latter case Yang tried to sue the police for psychological damage but the claim was rejected.

Yang entered the Zhebei Police Station in a suburb of Shanghai through a service entrance with knife and a mask after starting a diversionary fire near the front gate of the station. He stabbed four police officers on the first floor and two more and on the 9th and 11th floors before being subdued. A former supermarket clerk, Yang enjoyed hiking, photography and relaxing with a good book according to his MySpace posting.

Yang drew an extraordinary amount of sympathy. People gave him credit for standing up to police who are seen by many as abusive and exploitive. Hundreds of protesters, some of them with signs that read “Long Live the Killer,” showed up at one of his hearings. More than 4,000 people signed a an open letter, urging that his life be spared. A multitude of websites, blogs and Internet bulletin board discussions expressed support for Yang. One blogger wrote, “Yang did what we dare not do. Because of him, when we go to Shanghai, and bike in the street, we don’t have to fear policemen beating us.”

Yang was sentenced to death in September 2008. Large numbers of protestors showed up at his second trial in a higher court where his death sentence was upheld. Some doubted whether he even committed the crime based on inconsistencies in the way the evidence was presented. In November 2008, China’s highest upheld his death sentence.

Image Sources: 1, 3) Defense Talk; 2) Cgstock ; 4) Weird News; 5) Blogcadre; 6) Julie Chao ; 7) Xinhua ; You Tube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2012

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.