04/01/2009, 00.00
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Beijing admits police torturing inmates, announces changes

Top officials acknowledge the use of torture to extract confessions. Now a special commission is set to visit prisons. Police is expected to include respect for human rights in its training. Authorities want to mollify public opinion, incensed by inmates’ deaths.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s Ministry of Public Security has launched a three-month investigation that includes surprise inspections into the country’s prisons to crackdown on prisoner abuse and torture, this according to a ministry announcement made yesterday after a 24-year-old man was beaten to death in Yunnan by prison bullies.

The victim, Li Qiaoming, had been taken into custody two weeks ago for alleged illegal logging. The authorities initially attributed his death to an injury during a game of hide-and-seek in which he hit his head after being blindfolded. Later investigations revealed he was beaten to death by another inmate on orders of a local boss.

State-run media picked up the story causing a public uproar. After this incident at least three other suspicious cases came to light in Hunan, Hainan and Shaanxi where a 19-year-old high school student, Xu Gengrong (pictured), died.

Local prosecutors said he died of torture, and six officers have been arrested in connection with the case.

Now everyone is blaming the police for what was an open secret, that of mistreating and torturing inmates, and some times “tolerating” gang control in prisons.

Deputy procurator general Jiang Jianchu has admitted that torture is common during investigations and detentions, and that it is so deep-rooted that it will be difficult to eradicate.

According to media reports, badly trained, underpaid and poorly equipped officers are under heavy political pressure to solve cases, resulting in frequent accusations that they torture suspects to obtain confessions.

The mainland's legal system in fact remains largely opaque, and repeated official orders to end such practices have had little practical effect.

Newspapers’ crime pages are full of sensational stories of people forced to confess crimes under torture only to be acquitted later on, stories like that of a man forced to admit to killing his wife who had gone missing when in fact she had simply fled home and eventually reappeared years later.

The ministry said that police should be re-educated, reformed and assessed so that law enforcers improve their work ethic and are more aware of laws and respect for rights.

National People's Congress Member Zhou Guangquan suggested authorities tackle the problem at its root by separating prison administration from police duties, handing over custody management to a third party like the Justice Ministry.

Just last November the United Nations committee against torture had accused China of relying on torture to interrogate dissidents and extort confessions in criminal cases, angering mainland authorities who rejected them out of hand.

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