U.N. torture investigator calls China to change police and prisons systems

A U.N. torture investigator who made a landmark inspection visit to China last year is calling for sweeping changes in its police and court systems to reduce the widespread use of torture.

Manfred Nowak's report also urges Beijing to stop executing people for economic and nonviolent crimes, and to abolish vague state security laws used against dissidents.

It calls for the release of people jailed for peaceful exercise of free speech or religion.

Nowak's two-week visit in November capped a decade-long effort by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to be allowed to look into claims of torture by Chinese authorities.

Nowak's report, dated March 10 and posted on the UNHCHR Web site, says torture of crime suspects is widespread due to the Chinese legal system's heavy reliance on confessions. Nowak recommended that the videotaping of police interrogations should become routine, and said judges should ask suspects if they have been mistreated.

The communist government in December rejected Nowak's conclusion that torture is widespread. The government outlawed torture in 1996 and says it punishes police or others who mistreat detainees.

But Chinese defense lawyers and human rights activists say torture and detainee mistreatment are still common before trials, in prison and in police-run labor camps.

In a highly publicized case last April, a man who said he was tortured into making a false confession that he killed his wife was freed after 11 years in prison when the wife reappeared alive and said she had left her husband to be with another man, reports the AP.

I.L.