China says has tightened judicial procedures to protect rights

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has tightened judicial procedures against illegally obtained evidence and upheld the presumption of innocence, state media said on Monday, as the country seeks to combat perceptions of human rights violations within Communist Party-run courts.

U.N. experts have pressed the government about deaths in custody and persistent allegations that torture, especially of political prisoners, is rife in police stations and prisons.

Chinese officials acknowledge that while illegally obtained evidence and forced self-incrimination of detainees is banned, it still has work to do to eliminate torture.

Nonetheless, the government consistently rejects any criticism of its human rights record, saying it adheres to the rule of law.

Judicial authorities have “put in place a system to exclude unlawful evidence and protect the legitimate rights and interests of criminal suspects”, the Xinhua state news agency reported, citing the State Council, or cabinet, in a paper it published on legal protection for human rights.

“China has revised its Criminal Procedure Law, and implemented principles, including ‘in dubio pro reo’,” Xinhua said, using the Latin term that generally refers to the presumption of innocence.

According to the cabinet paper, in 2014 the Ministry of Public Security issued regulations for fitting interrogation rooms and detention centers with audio and video recording equipment to prevent misconduct such as “extorting confessions by torture and obtaining evidence through illegal means”.

Other recent reforms include the enacting of China’s first Anti-Domestic Violence Law, Xinhua said.

The steps to improve legal procedures comes as President Xi Jinping’s administration has tightened control over civil society, citing a need to boost national security and stability.

Dozens of lawyers and activists have been swept up in a crackdown on dissent since July last year, and many have been tried and convicted on subversion charges, which are commonly leveled against critics of the Communist Party.

International rights groups have labeled the trials of the activists in party-controlled courts unfair and politically motivated, and foreign governments, including the United States, have called for their release.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel