2017: The Return of the Show Trial

China - Rechtsprechung
The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus,  Volume 15 | Issue 13 | Number 1 | Jul 01, 2017
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The Return of the Show Trial: China’s Televised “Confessions”¹

Magnus Fiskesjö


Abstract
This article investigates the recent wave of staged confessions in China in historical perspective. Currently, the authorities “disappear,” detain, and parade people, both Chinese and foreigners, on state television, forcing them to incriminate themselves by making abject confessions prior to legal proceedings. This is a clear break with years of efforts to build the rule of law in China. It also reverses multiple solemn declarations to prohibit police torture and forced confessions, both longstanding practices in China. The new extrajudicial show trials, which are staged spectacles outside courts of law, suggest a return to Mao-era praxis, and have been criticized by many, including leading Chinese judges and lawyers. Despite the painstaking choreography, the TV confessions are widely regarded both in China and internationally as fake — not least because of several new witness accounts provided by former detainees which emerged during 2016. Elements for a historically grounded interpretation emerge from examination of Soviet Communist, Christian, and various East Asian parallels. Kafka's allegory in The Trial exposes how the powerful frame the innocent by forcing them to “confess,” in order to perpetuate their power.

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