China's top court bans police from torturing suspects

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Chinese officials must stop using torture to extract confessions from suspects, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The court said on its official microblog that using "freezing, starving, extreme heat, fire branding or extreme exhaustion" to extract confessions was also illegal.

It is the latest in a series of moves aimed at reforming the Chinese police and other security agencies.

Last week, China said it was abolishing "re-education through labour" camps.

The system, which started in the 1950s, allowed the police to send anyone to prison for up to four years without a trial. It was almost impossible to appeal against a sentence under the system.

The new announcement comes a week after Chinese officials concluded a four-day, closed-door meeting in Beijing at which a number of reforms were agreed.

The Supreme Court has ordered lower courts to exclude evidence obtained by torture "in a bid to promote fair justice", state-run Xinhua news agency says.

"Evidence must be valued," Xinhua said, quoting a court document.

"The traditional concept and practice of a testimony being the most paramount should be changed, and more attention should be paid to examining and using material evidence," the document added.

The document also makes clear that courts should remain independent, must follow legal procedure and should not become involved in police investigations, Xinhua says.

However, enforcing a ban on this behaviour will be difficult, says the BBC's Celia Hatton in Beijing.

For years, the country's judicial and law enforcement agencies have issued joint pledges to stop using torture or accepting evidence obtained through torture, but the practice appears to be fairly common, our correspondent adds.

"In the judicial system in China the public security system is by far the most powerful institution, and there are effectively very few checks and balances on how it exerts its power," Nicholas Bequelin, of rights group Human Rights Watch, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

One of the more high-profile recent cases involving torture had to do with a Chinese official who died during questioning by Communist Party investigators in April.

State media reported that Yu Qiyi's head was submerged under water several times during his interrogation for his alleged role in a corrupt land deal.

The investigators were eventually jailed after being found guilty of "intentional injury", according to reports. (BBC)

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