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China denies U.N. claim of widespread torture

China on Tuesday denied a special U.N. investigator's report of widespread torture in the country, saying it had mechanisms in place to prevent the problem.
/ Source: news services

China on Tuesday denied a special U.N. investigator's report of widespread torture in the country, saying it had mechanisms in place to prevent the problem.

The comments by a Foreign Ministry spokesman were China's first on the report last Friday by Manfred Nowak at the end of a two-week trip to China.

They came as the top U.S. diplomat in China accused Beijing of restricting Chinese advocacy groups and urged the country to improve its human rights record.

"Human right abuses in China are still all too common," U.S. Ambassador to China Clark T. Randt told U.S. business executives in Hong Kong.

He cited examples of China's detention of journalists, pastors and academics on a range of charges from subversion and espionage to leaking of state secrets.

Nowak, the first U.N. torture investigator to visit China, said he had met with about 30 people in detention in Beijing, Tibet and the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang and they told him of various methods of torture Chinese authorities have used over the years.

Those include electric shock, beatings, sleep deprivation, submersion in sewage, cigarette burns and exposure to extreme heat or cold, he said.

"China cannot accept the allegation that torture is widespread in China still," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a routine briefing.

"We understand that the rapporteur's work is to find out problems and to give criticism, but within short two weeks and a trip to only three cities, the rapporteur may jump to conclusions," Qin said. "This is short on factual grounds and does not conform to reality."

Qin said monitoring and punishment systems have been set up to prevent torture, which was officially outlawed in 1996.

"We have made effective efforts in this regard," he said.

Like ‘killing a person with a soft knife’
Nowak's visit, which began Nov. 21, capped a decade-long effort by the U.N. to send an investigator to look into claims of torture and mistreatment by Chinese authorities.

Beijing had repeatedly agreed to allow the visits and then postponed them.

He said certain groups have been particular targets of torture, including political dissidents, human rights activists, practitioners of Falun Gong, unofficial church groups and the Tibetan and Uighur minorities.

He Depu, a Beijing-based democracy activist, told Nowak he was forced to lie still on a bed in a cold room for 85 days — a position that was like "killing a person with a soft knife."

Nowak, a Vienna law professor, said Chinese security agents attempted at various times throughout his visit to obstruct or restrict his fact-finding.

They listened in on interviews with victims' relatives or prevented family members from talking to him, he said.

Qin denied the allegations. "The general principle of the visit was fully respected," he said. Nowak will include his findings in a report to be submitted at next year's meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

China hopes Nowak "can correct the wrong conclusion in his report," Qin said.