07/27/2006, 00.00
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Prison for those who torture and cover up disasters

There are 60 new legal provisions punishing the use of torture and also those who seek to cover up the true extent of health or mining disasters.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Chinese government officials will face criminal prosecution if they use torture during inquiries in custody or try to cover up the true extent of mine disasters. These are just two examples of dozens of new provisions added to the criminal code. They were approved yesterday by the government and sanction abuse of power by local and central authorities.

Prosecutors who worked on the provisions said the 60 new criteria would allow them to press tougher charges against officials who abuse of their power.

The criteria describe as "serious crimes" the torture of suspects and also "covering up by health officials of the true extent of epidemics and local pollution."

"Crimes of torture" were also specified, including "ill treatment, physical violence of any kind and starving detainees". Previous regulations already prohibited "brutal means" but did not specify what they were: this meant officials accused of such crimes had several legal loopholes.

The additions bring the total number of dereliction-of-duty crimes to more than 220: they were drafted as part of a central government attempt to curb abuse of power and consequent popular unrest.

Wang Zhenchuan, national deputy procurator-general, said the changes were made to bring the list in line with new laws and regulations. "Some articles of the old regulation were too broad and not specific, so some crimes could not be targeted effectively. Amending it had become an urgent judicial need," Wang said.

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