China’s Ministry of Public Security has launched a three-month campaign to eliminate “unnatural deaths” in prisons following several alleged beatings to death by guards, one of which prison staff claimed was caused by the prisoner’s own nightmare, state media said yesterday.
The ministry posted a notice on its Web site ordering all prisons and detention centers to learn from the case of Li Qiaoming, a man who was beaten to death in February by other prisoners at a detention center in Yunnan Province.
The detention center initially claimed that Li, 24, died accidentally during a game of hide-and-seek.
Staff at another detention center in Jiangxi Province came up with an even more implausible explanation for the death of 50-year-old Li Wenyan, saying he died during a nightmare, the official People’s Daily newspaper reported
At least three other suspicious deaths in custody were reported over the last month, including two minors who died within four days of each other at a juvenile detention center in Hunan Province.
The ministry ordered local public security offices to “boost professional ethics, law awareness and respect for human rights” at prisons and detention centers.
“Officials should be brave to reveal their problems in the management of prisons and detention center, and should exert doubled efforts to address them,” it said.
Law professor Fan Chongyi (樊崇義) told the official China Daily that the ministry’s campaign did not go far enough.
“It aims to improve the police officers’ professional awareness and regulate their behavior, but in order to strike at the root of the problems, the detention houses should be put into the hands of an independent department,” Fan told the newspaper.
Rights groups say the use of violence and torture by Chinese public security staff remains common, but the government says it is trying to address the problem.