China's Supreme People's Court [official website, in Chinese] announced Sunday that evidence obtained through violence or intimidation will be barred [China Daily report] from use in criminal trials and death penalty cases. The new regulations require prosecutors to provide the court with records from interrogations and allow defendants convicted in death penalty cases to request an inquiry into the validity of their interrogations. Evidence from unnamed sources is also barred from being used in death penalty cases. The announcement comes weeks after Zhao Zuohai, a man convicted of murder, was released from prison [RTT report] following the realization that his alleged victim was still alive. Zhao stated he confessed only after being beaten by police. Legal experts in China indicated that the new regulations mark the first time government has acknowledged that evidence obtained through coercion will be useless in court. Advocacy groups have praised the new law [NYT report] but indicate it is only a small step and that larger steps need to be taken by the government in order to ensure true reform.
Zhao's claims of torture are not the first to be made against the Chinese government. Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] drew international attention in September 2007 when he wrote a letter [JURIST report] to the US Congress requesting assistance in improving human rights in China. Gao, who has also defended Christians and coal miners in China, claimed that he was tortured after being arrested earlier that year. He was originally part of the Chinese Communist Party and handled prominent cases involving the outlawed Falun Gong movement [Falun Dafa website], but fell into disfavor with the government in 2006 when he was convicted of subversion [JURIST report] and placed under house arrest. Gao had been most recently detained since February 2009.