BEIJING — The Chinese government reacted angrily on Monday to what it called a slanderous United Nations report that alleges systemic torture of political and criminal detainees. The government said the authors were biased, untruthful and driven by a political agenda.
The report, issued Friday by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, documented what the authors described as widespread abuse in the Chinese legal system, one that often gains convictions through forced confessions.
The report recounts China’s use of “secret prisons” and the widespread harassment of lawyers who take on rights cases, and it criticizes the government’s extralegal system of punishment, known as re-education through labor, which hands down prison terms to dissidents without judicial review.
“The state party should conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of torture and ill treatment and should ensure that those responsible are prosecuted,” said the report, which was written by a 10-member committee of independent experts.
Qin Gang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, called the document “untrue and slanderous,” and said that China cherished human rights and opposed torture. “To our regret, some biased committee members, in drafting the observations, chose to ignore the substantial materials provided by the Chinese Government,” he said in a statement posted Monday on the ministry’s Web site, adding that they “even fabricated some unverified information.” The ministry did not describe the material it had provided to the United Nations committee.
The report’s publication is another embarrassment for the Communist Party, which has been striving to demonstrate its commitment to human rights. Last month, the government was infuriated by the European Union’s decision to honor Hu Jia, one of the country’s best-known dissidents, who is serving a three-and-a-half year prison term for subversion; last week, China was angered by a United States Congressional report that criticized what it called China’s failure to fulfill a pledge to improve human rights leading up to the Olympic Games and during them.
“Illegal detentions and harassment of dissidents and petitioners followed the Chinese government and Communist Party’s instructions to officials to ensure a ‘harmonious’ and dissent-free Olympics,” the report said. “Individuals detained for circulating a ‘We Want Human Rights, Not Olympics’ petition are now serving sentences in prison and ‘re-education through labor’ centers.”
Although China’s Constitution includes provisions to protect human rights and China has ratified numerous international conventions banning torture, public security officials frequently use coercion to gain signed confessions. “I have yet to see a political case in which the person was not tortured or mistreated,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher based in Hong Kong for Human Rights Watch. Even though torture is technically illegal under Chinese law, he added, there is no explicit prohibition against evidence obtained through coercion.
Human rights advocates say that the government’s crackdown on dissenters has not let up since the Games, when petitioners seeking permission to demonstrate in parks officially designated for protests were whisked away by the police.
The most recent cases include that of Guo Quan, an associate professor at Nanjing Normal University, who was detained on Nov. 13 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” after he established an independent political party. Earlier, Liu Xueli, a farmer from Henan Province whose land had been confiscated by local officials, sought a protest permit during the Olympics and was sentenced to re-education through labor.
On Friday, a court in Chengdu handed down a three-year sentence to Chen Daojun, a journalist and environmental advocate who was convicted of “inciting to subvert state power.” Mr. Chen was detained in May after he published articles on the Tibetan quest for greater autonomy and the spate of anti-Western demonstrations that erupted across China after the Olympic torch relay was disrupted by protesters in Paris, London and San Francisco.
Although prosecutors accused Mr. Chen, 40, of slandering the Communist Party, his lawyer, Zhu Jiuhu, suggested that the authorities might have been especially irked by Mr. Chen’s participation in a demonstration this year opposing the construction of a petrochemical plant near Chengdu. Mr. Zhu said he was denied access to his client; the trial, he added, lasted less than an hour. “We tried our hardest,” he said.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Chen’s wife, Zeng Qirong, said she had not seen her husband since he was taken into custody. She said he had often written literary criticism or articles about rural life.
The detention, she said, would be particularly onerous for the couple’s 10-year-old son and Mr. Chen’s sickly parents. “The process was not fair,” she said of the trial. “They were only articles. It was his own opinion. He was only describing the way society is.”