China's criminal justice system

This section provides materials on China's criminal justice system and issues that directly impact extradition decisions. This includes China's most recent government white paper, which states that China is not a system under rule of law and that defense lawyers shall be subservient to the needs of the Chinese Communist Party. Here, you will also find official data on arrests, prosecutions and conviction rates.

This section provides some additional resources on various topics that will be relevant for any extradition hearing, but to understand the issues stemming from China's criminal justice system, and how they interact with each other, it is vital to read the full extradition manual, Hide and Seek (available to download on your right). This section is thus not comprehensive, and reading the full manual is a must to understand the complex issues that arise from China's criminal justice system.

As this report [Hide and Seek] argues, the denial of the right to a fair trial and the prevalence of torture call for a total moratorium on law enforcement cooperation and extradition of fugitives to China, and the emptiness of consular and diplomatic assurances removes any opening for ad hoc exceptions. To put it another way, regardless of the veracity of criminal allegations, the risk of human rights abuse upon return to China is so great that international extradition norms and human rights law implores countries not to extradite to China.

This report lays out the evidence for a blanket refusal of extradition requests from China and also serves as a resource for stakeholders engaged with countering or documenting China’s use of extraditions to pursue fugitives abroad


Government white papers, official declarations, reports, and statements

Topic The absence of an independent judiciary.

 "The Communist Party of China's absolute leadership over political and legal systems must be upheld. [...] The political and legal staff should fulfill their major duties of safeguarding the country's political security [...]", Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CCP Central Committee in an instruction publicized in 2018

Topic The CCP's absolute control over every aspect of society.

This 2017 review of the constitution of the communist party of China

Topic Rule of Law. 

Plan on Building the Rule of Law in China (2020–2025). Issued by the CCP Central Committee, this plan describes the building of a "Socialist Rule of Law" that is ongoing and is scheduled to continue until 2035. Note the use of the word "Socialism" to redefine rule of law. It highlights CCP leadership as being at the center of the legal system and the role of "Party committees" at all levels of government infrastructure, including law enforcement and judicial organs. All Party committees are regulated by internal Party directives, not by State law.

Topic Trial and conviction data.

The Supreme Court's annual work report 2022. For analysis of this, see Prosecutions abandoned, conviction rate record high, and more on China’s judiciary 2022 and China’s criminal justice system in the Age of Covid.

Topic Arrest and prosecution data.

The Supreme Procuratorate (prosecutor's office) annual work report 2022. For analysis of this, see Prosecutions abandoned, conviction rate record high, and more on China’s judiciary 2022 and China’s criminal justice system in the Age of Covid.

Topic Data on access to legal counsel.

The head of the Chinese Bar Association is the source for the most recent data available on access to legal counsel for criminal detainees. In 2017, it was less than 30%.

Topic Role of lawyers.

A new body established in 2018 to specifically investigate economic crimes by Party members, State functionaries, and public bodies has entirely removed the right to have legal counsel. A chief of the provincial bureau under this new body said it made investigations more "effective". A professor of law at Peking University explained that such cases are "heavily dependent on the suspect’s confession. (...) If he (the suspect) remains silent under the advice of a lawyer, it would be very hard to crack the case". 

Topic Judicial independence. 

Opinions on Strengthening Legal Education and Legal Theory Research in the New Era. This high-level document spells out official opposition to judicial independence, adherence to the CCP's lead role in the judicial system, and that legal education should be based on "Xi Jinping Thought," and meet ideological and political standards. 

Document no. 9. Classifies judicial independence as a "Western" concept and a key threat to the CCP.

Statement form Ministry of Justice. Xi Jinping’s Thought on the Rule by Law opens up a new realm of sinicisation and modernisation of Marxist theory of the Rule by Law. This outlines the role of the Party in developing the legal system, the guidance of Xi Jinping, and rejection of "Western" notion of separation of power and judicial independence.

Topic Dictatorship.

Both the Criminal Law and the National Security Law refer quite clearly to China as a dictatorship.  


Safeguard Defenders' reports on China's criminal justice system

On use of torture in pre-trial detention and use of forced confessions

2018 - Battered and Abused - Why torture continues to stand at the heart of China's judicial system

On use of televised forced confession of suspects before trial

2019 - Safeguard Defenders: Scripted and Staged - Behind the scenes of China's forced TV confessions

On use of solitary confinement during the investigatory phase, and how international law classifies it as an act of torture

2019 - Safeguard Defenders: The use of solitary confinement in RSDL as a method of torture

On the use of secret, incommunicado detention (RSDL system)

2020 - Safeguard Defenders: Rampant Repression - A data analysis of China's use of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (2013-2020)

On how detention facilities registered detainees under false names to hide them from lawyers, even after formal arrest 

2020 - Safeguard Defenders: Access Denied - China's Vanishing Suspects

On methods used to detain people incommunicado upon their release from prison

2020 - Safeguard Defenders: Access Denied - China’s False Freedom

On methods employed by the State to deny detainees access to legal counsel

2020 - Safeguard Defenders: Access Denied - China’s Legal Blockade

On use of secret, incommunicado detention (RSDL system)

2021 - Safeguard Defenders: Locked Up - Inside China's Secret RSDL Jails

On recent developments in the criminal justice system

2021 - Safeguard Defenders: Presumed Guilty - A briefing on data concerning arrests, prosecutions, and trials in China 2013-2020

2022 - Safeguard Defenders: China's Criminal Justice system in the age of COVID

On use of secret, incommunicado detention (RSDL system)

2022 - Safeguard Defenders: China's Pincer move against regulated detentions

On use of house arrest, both within and outside of law

2022 - Safeguard Defenders: Home As Prison - The increasing use of House Arrest in China

On police use of psychiatric institutions to detain people indefinitely 

2022 - Safeguard Defenders: Drugged and Detained - China's Psychiatric Prisons

On the demise of China's brief attempt at judicial transparency

2022 - Safeguard Defenders: China's Missing Verdicts - The demise of CJO and China's judicial transparency

On the use of exit bans, both within and outside of law

2023 - Safeguard Defenders: Trapped - China's expanding use of Exit Bans

On the collective punishment of family of human rights defenders including children and aged parents

2023 - Safeguard Defenders: Families in Fear - Collective punishment in 21st century China





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