Chinese prisoners are beaten and deprived of sleep, UN inquiry finds

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The Independent Online

Manfred Nowak, the UN Human Rights Commission's special investigator on torture, urged China to further develop its criminal system to encourage fair trials and ensure that dissidents and other groups were not imprisoned under vaguely worded state security laws. "Many steps need to be taken to build up a system that respects the rule of law," Mr Nowak said.

Beijing has repeatedly agreed to the UN's visits, only to postpone them. Mr Nowak visited detention centres in Beijing, Tibet and the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang, and held talks with top Chinese prosecutors and justice officials. When asked about the prevalence of torture, which was outlawed in 1996, Mr Nowak answered: "I consider it on the decline, but still widespread."

A UN statement said the organisation had received reports that Chinese authorities used electric shock batons, cigarettes, hoods or blindfolds, submerging prisoners in water or sewage, and exposing them to extreme heat or cold.

Mr Nowak said: "Very often an individual police officer is not instructed to torture, but is under pressure to extract a confession."

Mr Nowak also complained of obstruction by the authorities. "There was frequent surveillance of my interviews ... by intelligence agents who tried to ... listen to our private conversations," he said. In addition, "victim's families were actually prevented by various means ... from coming to meet me."