Lawmakers advocated a new round of reforms for China's detention system, after three more people were reported to have died in police custody.
Following repeated incidents of detainees being bullied or tortured by the police, officials and scholars felt judicial or independent institutions ought to take over the running of detention facilities.
"The police not only investigate and question the suspects, but also detain them before they are put on trial. This is not appropriate," said Duan Zhengkun, a retired deputy minister of justice and a top political advisor.
Chinese law opposes torture as a fundamental principle and there are specific provisions protecting a citizen's personal rights in China's Constitution, criminal law and criminal procedure law.
But under the current law the undertrials are put in detention facilities, managed entirely by public security departments. Allegedly, suspects are often detained overtime, abused, not allowed to see lawyers and even innocent people are detained against the law, experts said.
In Shaanxi province, 19-year-old high school student Xu Gengrong, suspected of stoning his schoolmate to death, died on Mar 8, on the seventh day of his detention.
Autopsy results showed Xu was starved and suffered several injuries.
Xu's classmate Wu Ming, also detained for two days, said the police seemed to consider them suspects from the very start. "I was kept awake, beaten till my nose bled and arms grew numb from carrying a pile of bricks on my back, " he told the local media.
No police officers were asked to account for the incident yet, the local government said.
The other two cases involved robbery suspect Hu Fenqiang, who died on his way to the hospital after spending 12 days in police custody on Mar 12 in Hunan province, and 58-year-old Luo Jingbo, beaten to death by other detainees on Mar 2 in Hainan province.
Officers at both detention centers were sacked and detained for investigation.
These cases come in the wake of an uproar sparked off by the death of 24-year-old Li Qiaoming in Yunnan province last month, beaten to death by another inmate.
Local police initially said the detainee had run into a wall while playing hide-and-seek blindfolded at the detention center.
"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 with the Beijing-based Renmin University, to China Daily.
The guidelines on a new round of judicial reforms, issued by Central Politics and Law Committee of the Communist Party of China in January, will not, however, make a difference to the public security department's control on detention facilities, insiders told China Daily.
(China Daily March 18, 2009)