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Deaths in detention lead to China reform calls

March 24, 2009

BEIJING (Reuters) - A series of deaths in police custody over the past six weeks has sparked a call for reforms of China's detention system, the official China Daily said on Tuesday in a long article on bullying and torture.

Chinese media have reported the deaths of five men at the hands of police or fellow inmates since mid-February. All were in detention centres, where suspects who have not been charged or convicted can be held for several months with few legal rights.

"Police will sometimes have the detained suspects, especially new ones, tortured so that they can get confessions and complete an investigation as soon as possible," Chen Weidong, a criminal procedure professor with the Renmin University of China, was quoted as saying.

The China Daily called for a "neutral administration" to operate China's 2,700 detention centres, which are run by the local public security departments who are also charged with investigating cases.

Earlier this month, a former vice minister of justice spoke openly about torture in the detention centres and called for them to be hived off from public security departments.

Judicial guidelines issued by the Communist Party's politics and law committee contained no such reform, it acknowledged.

After conviction, suspects are sent to prisons operated by the Ministry of Justice, where they are entitled to visits from relatives.

Although many Chinese lawyers have been working for reform of the judicial system, some of the more outspoken ones have also vanished into detention.

Lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who tried to represent detained members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group, has been held in an undisclosed location since early February. His wife and children fled China this month, citing unrelenting harassment of the family by police.

Lawyers were also blocked from representing Tibetans detained after a series of demonstrations against Chinese rule last year.

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