Detainees get more rights, protection

08:50, November 10, 2009      

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Detainees awaiting trial will no longer be forced to work at China's detention houses, thanks to a breakthrough being heralded by lawyers as legal progress in protecting their legitimate rights.

The change is outlined in a draft regulation published yesterday on the central government's website (gov.cn).

Public opinion is currently being sought on the idea till the end of this month.

The seven-article regulation with 39 clauses was drafted by the Ministry of Public Security and released by the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, the country's cabinet.

The regulation stipulates that detention houses, where presumed-innocent people are held prior to their court proceedings, must safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of detainees.

The changes seek to better regulate the management of detention houses in general, which have long been accused of ignoring the legal rights of detainees.

Under the draft regulation, inmates will also be spared the task of having to supervise other detainees.

The current regulations governing detention houses were implemented in 1990. The existing rules do not explicitly say detainees should not be forced to work.

In addition, government budgets must cover the full cost of housing detainees and include such items as the cost of food. Detention houses and police officers working there are no longer allowed to charge fees against detainees.

The country's detention houses, which fall under the management of local police departments, have come under scrutiny in recent months following several high-profile fatalities. The draft regulation is being seen as an attempt to improve their management.

Detention facilities hit the headlines in Febuary after 24-year-old Li Qiaoming was beaten to death in Yunnan province. Local authorities initially ruled out foul play, blaming his death on an accident during a game of hide and seek. It was only after public uproar and the intervention of the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP), that the truth was uncovered.

Under the new rules, procuratorates must verify the cause of death of inmates who die of unnatural causes. If family members are unsatisfied, a higher level procuratorate should also investigate.

Police working within detention houses can now be penalized if they are found to have abused or insulted a detainee, if they have taken a detainee's possessions or accepted a bribe from a detainee or his family member.

A draft amendment to the State Compensation Law, submitted to the National People's Congress Standing Committee last month, said detention houses and jails must offer compensation if officers beat inmates or allow others to beat inmates.

Liu Zhongcheng, a lawyer in Beijing, said ineffective management of detention centers and disrespect given to detainees cause problems that can lead to injury and death. Liu said the new regulation was a step in the right direction.

"So far as I know, a lot of detainees work for free, which is not right," Liu told China Daily yesterday. "Detention houses are supposed to be a neutral ground, where suspects are not convicted yet, and, other than their personal freedom, all their other rights should be protected."

The draft regulation also stipulates that agencies, including public security departments and courts, that decide to detain a person should inform the detainee's family within 12 hours.

If the detainee's family cannot be reached, the decision to detain the person must be referred to the detainee's lawyer, the regulation says.

Source:China Daily
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