A high-ranking member of China’s largest legal organisation has called for an end to the country’s controversial televised confessions, with state-run media on Thursday backing his stance.
Almost every day China’s state broadcaster CCTV shows interviews with suspects confessing to crimes, often before they have appeared in court.
“There are too many possibilities that may lead suspects to plead guilty against their will or say something contrary to the facts,” Zhu Zhengfu, deputy chairman of the All-China Lawyers Association, told the Beijing News.
“Before a judgement by the court, we should stop society from treating them as criminals.”
Recent examples of televised confessions include Swedish rights worker Peter Dahlin, who apologised to China for allegedly training human rights lawyers, which officials said had “threatened state security.”
Another Swedish national, Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, who disappeared from Thailand late last year, confessed to a Chinese drink-driving offence dating back years and said he did not want Stockholm to interfere with his case.
He and several of his colleagues also made confessions in interviews broadcast on Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.
The genre often involves low-level criminals from across China seen in prison vests admitting to a wide range of offences.
See also: Ministry of Truth: A brief history of televised ‘confessions’ in China
Overseas rights groups have condemned the practice and say the interviews may be carried out under duress.
Zhu is also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a discussion body that is part of the Communist Party-controlled governmental structure, which opened its annual session on Thursday.
In a rare public criticism of an official practice, the state-run China Daily newspaper backed Zhu’s call in an editorial Thursday, encouraging CPPCC members to speak out.
“Having suspects confess on TV programs may help law enforcement officers build their case,” it said. “But it is against the jurisprudential principle of assumption of innocence.”