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August 15, 2009

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5 sentenced in jailhouse death case

A COURT in southwest China yesterday handed two former detention center guards and three inmates sentences ranging up to life behind bars for their roles in the death of a prisoner in a case that led to a nationwide crackdown on jailhouse abuse.

The case generated widespread public anger because authorities originally said 24-year-old inmate Li Qiaoming had died while playing a game of blind-man's bluff, an explanation that few believed, including Li's family. Instead, authorities finally admitted, he was beaten by jailhouse bullies and the attack was covered up by prison guards.

Zhang Houhua, Li's cellmate in a detention house in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, received a life term for causing intentional injury, and other two cellmates were given respective sentences of 16 and 17 years on the same charge, the Kunming Intermediate People's Court ruled.

Former prison guard Shu Shaolu was sentenced to one year in jail for abusing and assaulting the inmate. Shu's colleague, Li Dongming, was sentenced to 18 months with a one-year reprieve, which means the sentence could be commuted if he remains on good behavior.

He was found guilty of failing to carry out his duty to prevent jail violence.

The verdict finally satisfied Li's family, who became enraged when officials issued their initial statement on the cause of the young man's death.

Li Yongfu, an attorney representing Li's relatives, said the family dropped a former demand for 120,000 yuan (US$17,560) in compensation from the three cellmates as their families were too poor to afford it. They settled for 20,000 yuan.

Li Qiaoming was taken into custody in Kunming's Jinning County on January 30 for cutting trees without authorization as he tried to make money for his wedding.

He died 13 days later in a hospital after he was found in a coma in his cell, lying in pool of blood with a swollen head. An autopsy showed a serious brain injury.

Authorities at the county detention house at first said Li died during a game of blind-man's bluff, or duomaomao in Chinese, during which he accidently bumped into a door frame.

The explanation sparked nationwide anger among the public who accused the detention house of trying to escape responsibility for the inmate's death by offering an unbelievable excuse.

The term duomaomao even became a buzzword in Internet chatrooms and blogs to describe a flimsy excuse.

Under public pressure, the provincial government set up a task force, including Netizens, to investigate the inmate's death, and later admitted that Li was beaten to death by fellow prisoners.

The high-profile case triggered a nationwide crackdown on inmate abuse. The Ministry of Public Security and the country's top prosecutors office launched a five-month campaign to prevent violence and root out jailhouse bullies.

Surveillance cameras and security systems in all detention centers and prisons have been enhanced.


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