Beijing Police Recordings Won’t Help Accountability, Lawyers Say

2016-10-19 11:09:44

All police interrogations in Beijing will soon be recorded thanks to new municipal law enforcement guidelines, the Beijing Morning Post reported Wednesday.

The new regulations aim to address the public’s concerns about police brutality, emphasizing that evidence and confessions extracted through illegal means will be inadmissible in court. Among the rules is a provision for all interrogations to be recorded in their entirety — but the regulation doesn’t specify a timeline for implementation.

Lawyers say more oversight for law enforcement is welcome but caution that public transparency is essential for police accountability. Chen Youxi, a lawyer at Capital Equity Legal Group, said a major concern is that video recordings are rarely presented in court.

“In fact, many police do record the interrogation process, but the recordings are only for their internal supervision and investigations, not for lawyers and the public,” Chen told Sixth Tone. “They can only be useful if they are made available for public scrutiny.”

Chen is the lawyer representing the family of Lei Yang, a 29-year-old environmental scientist who died after being arrested by police in May this year, prompting the public to question police processes. Many prominent figures called for an investigation into Lei’s arrest and death, and an autopsy showed that Lei died from external causes, not from a heart attack, as police had initially claimed. But despite media scrutiny, the inquiry has been on hold since June.

In another case in March, a man named Peng Mingjing died while in police custody in Yunnan, southwestern China. A video surfaced in July that showed Peng trying to wrestle himself out of a chair before being forced back into it by police officers. He later appeared to have lost consciousness.

A November 2015 report on torture and forced confessions in China expressed concerns that audiovisual recordings were incomplete and rarely provided to defense lawyers. From 2008 to mid-2015, 279 individuals in China were convicted of “extracting confessions through torture,” according to the government’s report to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

(Header image: A police officer records the trial of a drug trafficking suspect in Weining County, Guizhou province, May 25, 2012. Li Yong/VCG)