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By MICHAEL WINES
Published: March 24, 2009
BEIJING — Inmates in China’s 2,700 pretrial detention centers suffer bullying and torture from fellow prisoners and police officers, and some criminal justice experts want a neutral body to take over the centers from the police to curb the abuses, the state-run English-language newspaper, China Daily, said Tuesday.
The newspaper noted that the Communist Party’s latest four-year plan for legal reforms does not include changes in the detention system. The said that since Feb. 8, five inmates died under suspiciouscircumstances while in police custody. Amnesty International, the human-rights advocacy group, last week reported two more deaths, which the police said were due to illness. Family members dispute those explanations.
All seven deaths occurred in police detention centers, where inmates accused of crimes can be held for months awaiting trial or formal charges. The centers are officially run by the national Public Security Ministry, but Professor Chen Ruihua of Peking University Law School was quoted as saying that they are effectively controlled by local police officials who regard them “as part of their turf and the most profitable piece of their territory.”
Another criminal procedure expert, Chen Weidong of Renmin University, was quoted as saying that officers “will sometimes have the detained suspects, especially new ones, tortured so that they can get confessions and complete an investigation as soon as possible.”
China Daily is distributed mainly to an international audience, including foreigners living in China. The newspaper sometimes publishes extensive articles on delicate topics that do not receive similar attention in the Chinese-language news media.
Detention centers drew widespread attention at home and abroad last month after an inmate in Yunnan Province, Li Qiaoming, 24, charged with illegal logging, died of brain injuries. Officials first said he had hit his head while playing a hide-and-seek game in which the seeker is blindfolded. An investigation revealed that he had been beaten to death by three other inmates, and six police officials at the center were dismissed or punished.
Since then, six other inmates have died in custody, including an 18-year-old from Hunan Province who local Communist Party officials said became unwell while being interrogated.
Police officials have said that three inmates died of illness. But in one of those cases, family members say, the body of a Hebei Province inmate said to have died of pneumonia had bruises and a broken tooth, evidence of beating. The other two cases remain in dispute.
During its meeting this month, the party-controlled legislature, the National People’s Congress, established a committee to investigate the centers. It recently conducted surprise inspections in Liaoyuan, a city in Jilin Province, the newspaper reported.
But in the article, the experts said the only way to sharply reduce abuses was to remove detention centers from local police control. “That has always been strongly resisted by police departments,” Hou Xinyi, deputy dean of the law school at Nankai University in Tianjin, was quoted as saying. The police “complain such a reform will not help their investigations and the crackdown on crime,” he said.
Amnesty International contended in a March 20 statement that the problems in the detention centers were symptoms of a larger lack of accountability and fairness in the justice system, in part because inmates often had little access to lawyers or even family visits. Amnesty urged the Chinese government to change its criminal procedure law to impose an explicit ban on the use of confessions obtained through torture or ill treatment.