‘Threats, torture, fear’: Rights group calls for end to China’s televised confessions
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‘Threats, torture, fear’: Rights group calls for end to China’s televised confessions

HUMAN rights advocates have called for sanctions against individuals within Chinese state media who are responsible for televised forced confessions that are often extracted through “threats, torture, and fear.”

A new report from Safeguard Defenders analyses the recordings of 45 confessions broadcast between 2013 and 2018 and includes interviews with a dozen people or members of their family, who Chinese police had made, or had tried to make, give a confession on camera.

“China’s televised confessions are reminiscent of violent and degrading episodes of political persecution from history,” the report reads. “Televised confessions represent such a transgression of rights that they are only practiced today by regimes such as North Korea and Iran.”

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Chinese American business man Charles Xue who was forced to confess on national TV in 2013. Source: YouTube – Wall Street Journal

The rights group says these confessions violate both domestic and international law as they are often filmed before detainees have been allowed their right to a fair trial. In some cases, the confessions were extracted before formal arrest.

“They deprive the suspect of due process; infringing on the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, the right to remain silent, the right not to self-incriminate and the right to be protected against giving a forced confession and torture,” according to the Safeguard Defenders.

Many foreign nationals have been included in these confessions, which are aired on Chinese state television and, in some cases, by Hong Kong media. The monitoring group believes they are regularly used as “tools of propaganda” for both domestic audiences and as part of China’s foreign policy.

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The report found that 60 percent of the confessions are from detainees who either worked in media – such as journalists, bloggers and publishers – or were human rights defenders, such as lawyers, NGO workers and activists. They are people whom the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) typically perceives as its enemies or critics and are usually charged with national security crimes or social order violations.

The study also found that Chinese police regularly took charge of the so-called confessions. Routinely dictating and directing what the detainee should say and do, right down to the outfit they were to wear.

“The interviewees described how the police took charge of the confession from dressing them in ‘costume;’ writing the confession ‘script’ and forcing the detainee to memorise it; giving directions on how to ‘deliver’ their lines – including in one case, being told to weep; to ordering retake after retake when not satisfied with the result,” the report said.

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Swedish human rights worker Peter Dahlin who was forced to confess on national TV in 2016. Source: YouTube

The airing of these confessions usually coincides with government crackdowns, or to counter criticism from outside sources, and are commonly littered with praise for the CCP and the police.

The trauma and humiliation of having to deliver a forced confession is something that lives with the victims long after the event.

“[The televised confession] figures very high in my post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome. It is one of these horror moments that often comes back to me and upsets me even now,” corporate investigator Peter Humphrey told researchers.

As a result of their research, Safeguard Defenders has called on the Chinese authorities to immediately stop the use of televised confessions and ensure all detainees receive the legal protections enshrined in domestic and international law.

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The group also called on foreign governments to stress to Beijing that there will be “consequences for ongoing violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.”

State news channel CCTV was identified as the primary broadcaster for televised confessions. Sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, should be imposed on key executives of the media network, the group recommends.

The network, along with others responsible for airing such confessions, should also be registered as foreign agents in other countries.

According to the report, “media organizations that film, collaborate with police in the staged and scripted process, and broadcast these confessions… are as culpable as the Chinese state in committing this deceptive, illegal and human rights violating practice.”