"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used
against you in a court of law..."
These words, familiar to many from Hollywood movies or cops-and-robbers TV
shows, could be uttered by Chinese police if an amendment to the Criminal
Procedure Law, scheduled for October, is approved.
"There's little debate over whether to include the stipulation that suspects
shall not be forced to admit guilt," Chen Ruihua, a law professor at Peking
University involved in the amendment of the law, said. "If approved, it means
that suspects will have the right to keep silent in interrogations."
Guangzhong, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law who
also participated in drafting the amendment, said legislators were also
considering whether to allow lawyers to be present during the whole
A draft amendment the All- China Lawyers Association (ACLA) submitted last
month to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), the top
legislature, included both stipulations.
The existing Criminal Procedure Law, amended in 1997, requires suspects to
truthfully answer investigators' questions during interrogations. It also
stipulates that lawyers are allowed in the case only after the first
These stipulations are believed to be at the root of forced confessions.
An inspection by the NPC Standing Committee in 2000 showed that forced
confessions did exist in the country. "Some police officers even take turns to
question the suspect, and an interrogation could last for days," Chen Ruihua
It is believed that such changes will help prevent forced confessions and
facilitate lawyers' increased participation in criminal defense.
Chen Ruihua said several cases in which the administration of justice had
gone awry made the revisions urgent.
For instance, Zhao Xinjian, a farmer from Bozhou, Anhui Province, was freed
last year after eight years in jail when the real murderer confessed.
In 2005, She Xianglin, who had spent 11 years in jail for "killing" his wife
in Hubei Province, was released after the woman turned up alive.
Both the victims claimed they were tortured during interrogations.
However, experts said it was still early to say whether the amendment would
finally include the two stipulations because of opposition from police
In February, the Legal Daily published an article by Ke Liangdong, director
of the legal affairs department of the Ministry of Public Security, who said:
"During the amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law, there's a tendency to
overprotect the suspects but ignore the rights of victims; there's also a
tendency to overstress the rights of lawyers but weaken effective means to fight
Tian Wenchang, director of the ACLA criminal defense committee, said the
article reflected the biggest problem in the amendment: the conflict between
cracking down on crime and protecting human rights.
He admitted that if suspects remain silent, solving some crimes could be more
"But the change is a must," he said, adding that the revision would also
streamline the litigation process, as investigators would try harder to collect
evidence instead of getting confessions.
The Ministry of Justice has also pointed out it was unrealistic for lawyers
to be present during all interrogations, as more than 200 counties have no
"Allowing lawyers' full participation in cases where suspects face the death
penalty or life sentence might be more practical," Chen Guangzhong said.
(China Daily 05/18/2007 page1)