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A Rare Glimpse Into The Horrors Of Life On Chinese Death Row

After being subsequently acquitted and released, a 42-year-old falsely accused of multiple murders, and sentenced to death, recounts a decade of torture and forced confession in a Chinese prison. It’s an experience few have lived to describe.

A Rare Glimpse Into The Horrors Of Life On Chinese Death Row
Liu Jinsong

BEIJING - Chen Ruiwu was acquitted after having been imprisoned and tortured for 10 years while awaiting his execution. He spent that decade locked up in a detention center in Hebei Province, China. This past Sunday, Chen recounted publicly for the first time his brutal prison experience, providing unusual testimony since most never emerge alive from China's death row.

Chen, 42, comes from China's northeast province of Heilongjiang. Ten years ago, while he was working in Bazhou City, he was accused of involvement in two shocking murder cases, one of which involved the killing of a local tax inspector and his family. Chen was prosecuted for voluntary manslaughter in 2001 by Bazhou's Public Security Bureau, and subsequently sentenced to death.

At the Hebei Provincial High Court from 2002 to 2009, Chen Ruiwu and the other six men allegedly involved in the two murder cases were tried and then retried on six occasions. The case was full of flaws, and lacked any credible evidence to prosecute the seven accused of committing the crimes.

After numerous appeals, Chen was pronounced innocent in 2009. But Chen was not in fact set free until early November.

Speaking at a Nov. 27 legal seminar in Beijing, Chen spoke about his case, and described his treatment on death row.

Chen said the only reason he was accused of the murder was because he had a meal with Yuan Weidong, a man from his hometown, who happened to be opening a restaurant next to the home of one of the murder victims. Both men were arrested, though neither was present in Bazhou on the day of the murder, and had alibis to prove it.

A simple method

From the first day of his detention, Chen was subjected to torture, as authorities sought to extraction a confession. The method was simple. Bronze wires from an old hand-cranked telephone were wrapped around his fingers and toes. The telephone handle was then cranked, sending an electric current through the wires. This is called: "being connected". Repeatedly, the guards shook him and tried to wring a confession out of him. "Now can you remember what you have done?" they would ask. "Are you going to confess now?"

Chen said he had no idea why he'd been arrested. "The police never asked specific questions. They just kept on pressing me to give an account."

When the police were not satisfied with his answers, they "connected" him. "As an instrument of torture, this old appliance is worse than being hit with a baton. It is extremely painful. You wish you could just die," said Chen.

According to reports, Chen complained of his torture during his court appearances. He spoke of shocks to his genitals from an electric baton, forced drinking of hot-chili water, suffocation with a plastic bag, burning the soles of his feet with a lighter, squeezing his fingers with pliers, as well as the telephone wire technique.

The most horrific experience was when he was connected to five telephone appliances on his hands, feet and ears at the same time. He tried to commit suicide by biting his own tongue, and was hospitalized and treated with seven stitches before returning to prison.

After more than a month of continual torture, Chen almost surrendered. He told his torturers "Write whatever you like. There's no need to beat me anymore." Nevertheless when the policeman pulled his hand to sign on the hearing record, he deliberately erred in signing his family name, signing with a Chinese character that is slightly different from the one in his family name. He did this with the faint hope that "If I really died, maybe the superior court would find that my signature was false, and maybe they'd investigate…I didn't want to shame my family name."

Yang Hongyi, who was acquitted at the same time as Chen Ruiwu, as well as the other three involved but released earlier for the same case, all claimed to have been subjected to similar torture.

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Society

End Of Roe v. Wade, The World Is Watching

As the Supreme Court decides to overturn the 1973 decision that guaranteed abortion rights, many fear an imminent threat to abortion rights in the U.S. But in other countries, the global fight for sexual and reproductive rights is going in different directions.

"Don't abort my right" At 2019 pro-choice march In Toulouse, France.

Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via ZUMA
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Sophia Constantino

PARIS — Nearly 50 years after it ensured the right to abortion to Americans, the United States Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade case, meaning that millions of women in the U.S. may lose their constitutional right to abortion.

The groundbreaking decision is likely to set off a range of restrictions on abortion access in multiple states in the U.S., half of which are expected to implement new bans on the procedure. Thirteen have already passed "trigger laws" that will automatically make abortion illegal.

U.S. President Joe Biden called the ruling "a tragic error" and urged individual states to enact laws to allow the procedure.

In a country divided on such a polarizing topic, the decision is likely to cause major shifts in American law and undoubtedly spark outrage among the country’s pro-choice groups. Yet the impact of such a momentous shift, like others in the United States, is also likely to reverberate around the world — and perhaps, eventually, back again in the 50 States.

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