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China officials decry prison torture, vow checks

March 09, 2009

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's former vice-minister of justice criticised torture in the country's prisons, state media said on Friday, after the death of a prisoner was originally covered up as a game of "hide and seek."

Judicial authorities pledged increased inspections of prisons and detention facilities to prevent inmates from being bullied or tortured, the China Daily said on Friday when another case of a man being beaten to death by prisoners was reported by local media.

"Detention houses should not be managed by public security departments, because they make the arrests, and sometimes torture the accused to force them to confess," the paper quoted former vice minister of justice Duan Zhengkun as saying.

Authorities initially claimed that a prisoner who died in a Yunnan province detention centre had run into a wall while blindfolded and playing hide and seek. After an outcry on the Internet, an investigation revealed that he had been beaten to death by a fellow prisoner who acted as kingpin in the jail.

The case "put a huge question mark on security inside China's prisons" the China Daily said, citing procurator spokesman Tong Jianming. Officials pledged inspection tours and punishment in cases of judicial corruption or dereliction of duty.

Luo Jingbo, 57, detained for illegally holding and trading firearms, was beaten to death last week in a detention centre on the southern island of Hainan, the Hainan Special Zone Daily said on Friday.

Luo had refused fellow inmates' request to take a shower, the paper said, citing police.

Abuses in China's jails and detention centres, where defendants have few rights and lawyers and families have little access, are regularly criticised by human rights groups.

Chinese lawyers who attempt to represent people accused in politically sensitive cases, including banned spiritual group Falun Gong and Tibetans detained after an uprising last year, have themselves been harassed and detained.

A monk who hung a hand-drawn Tibetan flag out the window of a Buddhist academy at the Kumbum monastery near Xining, in Qinghai province, was beaten and prodded with electric prods, fellow monks told Reuters this week.

China launched a review of death penalty cases over a year ago after the prevalence of forced confessions and wrong sentences was highlighted when a woman turned up in Hubei, years after her husband had been convicted of her murder based on a false confession.

The work reports of China's Supreme Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate received the worst marks at the close of China's annual legislative session on Friday, with over 500 delegates of the 2,898 delegates voting against each report and about 200 more abstaining.

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