Forced confession: One man relives his torture horror through cartoons

Story highlights

  • Liu Renwang says he was tortured into confessing to a crime he didn't commit
  • He says he suffered scalding with boiling water and electric shocks
  • Human Rights Watch say torture is used by Chinese police

Beijing (CNN)Nightmares wake Liu Renwang at night, a legacy of the five years he spent in a Chinese jail where he says he was tortured into confessing to a crime he says he didn't commit.

The flashbacks were so traumatic that 53-year-old Liu commissioned an amateur painter to draw cartoons to illustrate the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of police.
    He plans to use the drawings to help bolster his case for compensation, and he says he hopes they'll show the world "how brutally the authorities torture suspects during interrogations through my experience."
    The drawings obtained by CNN show six methods of torture that forced him to confess to a crime he did not commit, including scalding him with boiling water, pricking needles into his nails, giving him electric shocks and hanging him up.
    Liu, who comes from a small village in China's northern Shanxi Province, was twice convicted of the murder of a village official by a local court in Lüliang City, Shanxi Province.
    He initially received a suspended death sentence in 2010, before being jailed for life at a retrial two years later.
    Liu Renwang
    In 2013, he was acquitted by the same court after a reexamination of the case, and was then freed.

    Fear and anger

    His story has been widely shared after Shanghai-based online news outlet thepaper.cn reported it last Sunday.
    Although he is grateful for the government's reexamination of the case that finally led to his freedom, Liu said his experience remains a matter of fear and anger.
    "They were so cruel!" he told CNN. "I hope the world will learn how brutally the authorities torture suspects during interrogations through my experience."
    According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report from May this year, some Chinese officials characterized the use of torture as "nationwide," "common," and "serious."
    The advocacy group, citing Chinese scholars, also pointed out that torture was used in more than 80% of the prominent cases of false convictions involving capital offenses.
    Although the Ministry of Public Security claimed that the use of coerced confessions dropped by 87% in 2012, HRW believes the efforts the Chinese government has made to curb torture as well as false convictions haven't worked.
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    Chinese judges rarely hand down not-guilty verdicts. Official statistics show that in 2014, only 778 out of an estimated 1,184,000 criminal defendants -- or 0.066% -- were acquitted.

    Traumatic memory

    Liu told CNN that during a two-month long interrogation, he constantly lost consciousness from the abuses, and was heavily sleep-deprived.
    "I had to confess to the false charges because I couldn't bear the torture anymore," he said.
    Desperate, he thought of suicide to end the pain.
    "I even found a spot where I could commit suicide, but they watched me so closely that my attempts all failed."
    Wang Meiling, a relative of Liu, told CNN that she could still see the lingering horror in his eyes when he described his experience.
    "He had to pause a few times and his face was written with extreme fear when he was lost in memories," Wang added. "It was so traumatic that I didn't have the heart to continue asking."
    And there are more tangible outcomes too, according to Liu.
    He's partially lost his hearing, the result, he claims, of having been stabbed by swabs into the ears while in jail. While talking to CNN during a phone interview, Liu constantly had to ask the reporter to repeat questions more loudly.
    Liu ran a transportation business before he was jailed in 2008. He said his experience has landed him with more than $80,000 in debt due to legal and petition costs.
    "The disabilities caused by the torture have prevented me from working," he told CNN.
    Two months ago, he made a compensation claim for 6 million yuan (approximately US$932,698) from the Lüliang Intermediate Court. Liu said the case had been accepted and is in progress.
    However, Liu's case is not listed on the website of the Lüliang Intermediate Court. CNN's repeated calls to the court on went unanswered.