A restraining chair inside Beijing's No.1 Detention Center during a guided media tour on October 25, 2012.

Story highlights

A Chinese court has banned the use of torture to obtain confessions, say state-run media

Tactics like hunger, fatigue and extreme temperatures are reportedly prohibited

Rights groups see the move as an encouraging step but not yet a sign of real reform

CNN  — 

China’s top court has banned the use of torture to extract confessions, the latest in a series of reforms to its criminal justice system.

According to state-run news agency Xinhua, a document released by China’s Supreme People’s Court on Thursday stated that evidence and testimony obtained through torture and illegal methods such as forcing the accused to suffer extreme temperatures, hunger and fatigue – must be ruled out by judges.

Xinhua said that torture has been a practice of “widespread concern” and was used by some Chinese law enforcement personnel to wrap up cases quickly through forced testimony or a confession.

“Evidence must be valued,” Xinhua quoted the document as saying.

“The traditional concept and practice of a testimony being the most paramount should be changed, and more attention should be paid to examining and using material evidence.”

The court document came after China announced a series reforms following a four-day closed-door meeting in Beijing earlier this month.

Last week, China said it plans to abolish the “re-education through labor” system under which tens of thousands are imprisoned in China without trial.

The reform plan also promised to reduce the number of crimes that carry death sentences.

Capital punishment should be handed down by seasoned judges and must be ruled out if evidence is not sufficient, the court document said.

Human rights groups cautioned that the announcement by the Supreme People’s Court, while an encouraging step, should not pass as real reform yet. Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch said that the document demonstrated that there were people inside the system pushing for progress, and that alone was significant.

He said in a statement posted on the organization’s website, that this was the latest step China had taken in recent years to try to address the “most glaring” defects of China’s criminal law system and one paper document was not likely to bring about major changes.

“For one, it only speaks to the courts, while it’s the police, a much more powerful institution than China’s weak courts, that does the torturing,” he said.

Investigators in China drowning case jailed