03/19/2009, 00.00
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Chinese prisons under scrutiny for suspicious deaths, including minors’

Two young prisoners die in Hunan prisons. Increasingly people do not trust the system as state-owned press urges reforms and respect for inmates’ rights. Expert speaks on the matter.
 Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s controversial prison system has come under close scrutiny after two inmates in juvenile correctional facilities in Hunan province died within days of each other. Whereas the teens’ families have rejected official explanations for the boys’ death, demanding a more thorough investigation, public opinion, backed even by China’s official press, wants urgent reforms and guarantees against torture and abuse in prison.

In prison since 2007 Xiao Haixing, 18, of Dongjing village near Changsha, Hunan, was serving a five-year sentence at Hunan's No 5 District Juvenile Correctional Centre for burglary. He died at No 3 Xiangya Hospital of Central South University on 3 March.

Qiu Xiaolong, 17, from near Chenzhou in Hunan province, began serving a 2-1/2-year sentence at the Hunan No 2 Juvenile Correctional Centre in 2007 for robbing an internet café. He was found unconscious and unresponsive in his bunk on 6 March. Prison authorities said Qiu's death was probably caused by an asthma attack.

In both cases the families have refused official explanations and have posted photographs of the bodies online in separate campaigns to bring attention to their deaths.

Autopsy reports have not been released even though initial pathology reports indicated there were no signs of violence or poisoning, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Chinese public opinion has lost faith in the prison system following recent cases in which the authorities initially insisted inmates' deaths had been accidental, but it later emerged they had been beaten to death by other prisoners.

In the past police have been often accused of torturing people to extract confessions or using violence to enforce obedience.

Many also suspect that prison authorities tolerate organised groups that keep “order” within correctional facilities by forcing inmates to toe the line. 

“Government-dispatched agencies should oversee and protect human rights in prisons and detention facilities, with emphasis on uncovering and punishing violations, such as extortion of confession by coercion and torture, obtaining evidence by force and corporal punishments,” said Chen Weidong, a criminal procedure law professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, quoted in Xinhua.

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