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Hunger Strike by Death Row Inmates Underlines Use of Torture, Failure of Courts

(ChineseHuman Rights Defenders- February 26, 2010) CHRDhas learned that three death row inmates are staging a hunger strike inaJiangxi prison to draw attention to their convictions, which have beenuphelddespite a lack of evidence and shocking abuses perpetrated by policeassignedto their case. Fang Chunping (方春平),Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强),and Cheng Fagen (程发根),who havealready been incarcerated for “murder, robbery, and rape” in JingdezhenPrisonfor nearly seven years, have gone more than 100 hours without food orwatersince their protest began on February 23. “Theexperience of these men serves as a grimreminder of the deep flaws in a criminal justice system which continuestoexecute more prisoners than any other in the world,” said ReneeXia,CHRD’s International Director.Fang,Huang, and Cheng, along with a fourthdefendant, Cheng Lihe (程立和),were arrested in LepingCity, Jiangxi, in May 2002 and convicted in July 2003 of “murder,robbery, andrape” in cases which took place in 1999 and 2000. Their originalconviction wasoverturned on appeal by the Jiangxi Province High Court in April 2004,whichnoted in sending the case back to a lower court for a retrial that theconfessions of the four defendants were inconsistent and contradictory,andthat the evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient.  However, when the case was heard by theJingdezhen Intermediate Court in November 2004, no new evidence wasintroducedand no new investigations into the crime were conducted. The four wereconvicted and sentenced to death again; the Jiangxi Province High Courtonceagain heard their appeal, overturning their conviction in the 1999 casebutupholding their conviction in the 2000 case. They are currently serving suspended death sentences.ThatFang, Huang, Cheng, and Cheng’s confessionswere contradictory and inconsistent comes as no surprise, as the fourdefendants were subjected to brutal torture during interrogationsessions by policeseeking to extract confessions.  Cheng Fagen described days of torture, during which hewas beaten until he lost consciousness, gagged, kicked and trampled,forced tokneel until he fainted from pain, burned with a cigarette lighter, anddeprivedof food, water, and sleep.  The four wereall subjected to similar mistreatment: when lawyers visited HuangZhiqiang inprison in 2007, three years after his torture, deep scars on his wristswerestill visible from where he had been hung by handcuffs and had his armswrenched behind his back in the “airplane cuffs,” of which Chengwrites, “thepain was so great, it could not be described with words.” Followingdays ofexcruciating pain and mental anguish, Cheng stated he was thenpresented with aconfession written by police, which he was forced to sign. He remembers, “When I became a little moreaware they got someone to read out the confession and asked me torepeat afterhim, telling me that I have admitted to murder and signed theconfession andnow there was no going back.”As scholar andhuman rights lawyer TengBiao (滕彪)notes, police in the case were under a great deal of pressure to secureaconviction.  Because serious problemswith concrete evidence exist—for example, the four defendants have allprovidedproof they were not at the scene of the crime, critical pieces ofevidence,including cigarette butts recovered at the scene, have not been testedfor DNAevidence, no fingerprints from the scene have tied to the defendants tothecrime, and the body of one of the victims has not beenrecovered—prosecutorswere forced to rely on confessions.  Andyet, when the defendants’ confessions were presented in court, theycontradicted not only each other but the central facts of the case.  Dozensof Chinese lawyers and legal scholars havebecome involved in this case over the past few years as it touches onmany ofthe major problems with the application of the death penalty in China.Policeand prosecutors, under pressure from above and operating in a system inwhichtorturers are rarely, if ever, held accountable, were able to cruellymistreatFang Chunping, Huang Zhiqiang, Cheng Fagen, and Cheng Lihe withimpunity. Ajudicial system that remains subservient to political concerns hasgrosslyviolated their right to a fair trial and has placed the four atimminent riskof losing their lives.  And now, nearlyeight years after they were first arrested, that three of the prisonersfeelcompelled to undertake a hunger strike is a testament to thedifficultiesChina’s death row inmates face in getting a fair appeal and havingtheirconvictions overturned.    Formore information, please see:TengBiao, “On Leping Case,” theUN Special Rapporteur on Torture Regarding the Case of Mr.Cheng Fagen,,“PersistentTorture, Unaccountable Torturers: A Report on China’s Implementation of Convention against Torture and Other Cruel,Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,”, International Director (English andMandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286JiangYingying, Researcher (English and Mandarin),+852 8170 0237 

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