In China, torture is real, and the rule of law is a sham

Zhou Qiang, chief justice of China's Supreme Court, recently told provincial judges to resist Western ideals of judicial independence. (China Daily/Reuters)

By Editorial Board
January 26

A NATION under the rule of law must have a commitment that no one is exempt from justice. China has courts, judges and lawyers, but the Communist Party remains above the law. Two recent cases have dramatically illustrated how brutal and arbitrary punishment from the Chinese party-state can be, including its use of torture to silence dissent and break dissenters.

Imprisonment, forced confessions and deprivation are hardly new in China, but the fresh examples are raw and disturbing. The victims were lawyers committed to peaceful advocacy of human rights and dignity.

Xie Yang, 44, a lawyer from the southern province of Hunan, was rounded up in a mass crackdown on human rights lawyers and advocates that began in July 2015. He is still in prison. In early January, he met with his attorneys and courageously gave them a harrowing account of how he has been tortured. The transcript has been published on the website China Change, and it is a story of beatings and abusive punishment designed to crack his willpower. “They just deliberately tortured and tormented me,” he recalled. For example, Mr. Xie said, he was subject to a perverse technique called the “dangling chair.” He was forced to sit on a tower of stacked plastic stools for nearly 24 hours a day, both feet unable to reach the ground. His legs became swollen and painful. Other times, guards sat on either side of him for hours, smoking cigarettes and exhaling in his face. They threatened to harm his family and beat, kicked and head-butted him in an effort to coerce a confession. He insists he is innocent of the subversion charges against him.

Another lawyer, Li Chunfu, also 44, once was “a lively and tough human rights lawyer” who had advocated against the use of torture, according to a report by The Post . Mr. Li was kept in secret detention for 500 days, and when finally released on Jan. 12, his wife, Bi Liping, said he was thin, was ill and had become paranoid. Associates and relatives told the same China Change website that Mr. Li was tortured and drugged while confined.

On top of all this, the chief justice of the country’s Supreme Court, Zhou Qiang, gave a speech this month imploring “provincial judges to resist ‘erroneous’ Western ideals of judicial independence, constitutional democracy and the separation of powers.” Jerome Cohen, a professor at New York University School of Law, called the speech “the most enormous ideological setback for decades of halting, uneven progress toward the creation of a professional, impartial judiciary.” In effect, the chief justice was telling legions of judges and lawyers: The party, not the law, reigns supreme.

The United States has regularly spoken out about the universal values of human rights and rule of law. President Trump has shown no interest in either and has endorsed the use of torture in interrogations. That can only embolden China’s leaders the next time they decide to apply thumbscrews to the champions of democracy and rule of law.

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