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Close watch on brutality
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The surveillance cameras in detention houses will not show instances of torture or brutality if they are operated by security officers who can arbitrarily control video footage, says an article in the Chongqing Times. Following is an excerpt:

Following its recording of 15 unnatural deaths in custody nationwide, the Supreme People's Procuratorate's (SPP) announced it will join hands with the Ministry of Public Security to enhance the monitoring of detention houses via information networks.

The 15 deaths in detention houses occurred within the first quarter of this year and the number did not include prisoners in jails. It shows the urgency to address the living conditions and rights of detainees in China. Fortunately, China already has laws to guard against the extraction of confessions through torture or illegal detention.

If the detainees cannot have their personal rights fundamentally protected, those unnatural deaths will never end. We have already noticed that, following the unnatural deaths, the video footage concerning the deaths would "automatically disappear" or become "partly damaged due to technical reasons". Sometimes, there is no footage available at all.

In light of this situation, the Ministry of Public Security said it will complete the installation of monitoring facilities in detention houses across the country and ensure their normal operations before Sept 30. Meanwhile, it said all these facilities will be voluntarily reviewed by prosecutors.

However, all these efforts will be in vain if we sharpen only the hardware and ignore the personnel who manage such surveillance cameras. Those in charge of the detentions houses should stop regarding detainees as dregs of society.

The key to curbing unnatural deaths in detention houses is by checking the power of security officers to arbitrarily delete or edit surveillance footage.

Detainees and police also have a tense relationship. Cops may use brutal ways to help them crack a case under pressure from their superiors and could be influenced by a traditional mindset that puts down detainees.

Police obviously do not wish to see any surveillance footage that shows any instance of brutality. Even when they seriously violate detainees' personal rights, there may not be any evidence to back complaints over such acts.

(China Daily April 23, 2009)

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