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Prison guards on trial over death of inmate

TWO prison guards stood trial in southwestern China this morning for alleged dereliction of duty and prisoner abuse over the death of an inmate in a case that raised nationwide concern over the rights of detainees and convicted prisoners.

Kunming Intermediate People's Court designated Songming County People's Court in Kunming City, capital of Yunnan Province, to hear the case to ensure a fair trial, the Supreme People's Court Website said.

The indictment said Li Dongming, 48, a senior guard at Jinning County detention center, failed to carry out his duty to prevent jail violence in Li Qiaoming's cell, which led to Li Qiaoming's death.

Li Dongming's colleague Su Shaolu, 36, was accused of abusing inmates frequently from 2008 through February 2009.
Both defendants are former police officers.

The court did not reach a verdict today.

Li Qiaoming, 24, had been detained on January 28 and transferred to the detention center the next day for allegedly cutting down trees illegally. He died of severe brain injuries on February 12 in a Kunming hospital.

Police initially said Li Qiaoming was accidentally injured when he ran into a wall blindfolded during a game with other inmates. The explanation angered Li's family and created a storm of Internet criticism.

A probe by judicial authorities later determined that inmates had beaten Li Qiaoming to death.

Li Qiaoming had been frequently bullied by three inmates, according to prosecutors. On February 8, the trio asked Li Qiaoming to join them in a game of blind-man's bluff and covered his eyes with a cloth. Then the men began beating him, causing him to strike a wall and pass out, authorities said.

The three inmates all face charges of assault resulting in death, prosecutors said.

Li Qiaoming's family sued the three inmates for a total of 120,000 yuan (US$17,569) in a civil trial at Songming County People's Court, which has yet to reach a verdict.

Jinning police also paid Li Qiaoming's family 350,000 yuan as compensation and returned a tractor they seized from the victim, according to an earlier media report.

Five police officers were disciplined over his death. The detention house's chief and deputy were fired. The director of Jinning police received a "major demerit" while a deputy in charge of the county's prison affairs was dismissed. A prosecutor stationed in the detention center for supervision and inspection also lost his job.

Meanwhile, China's chief prosecuting body on April 20 began a five-month campaign to ensure proper management of the nation's detention centers, which have reported 15 "unnatural" deaths so far this year, according to an earlier report.

Seven of the 15 detainees were beaten to death, three killed themselves and two died in accidents, authorities said. The other three cases were still under investigation.

The campaign, launched jointly by the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security, focused on cracking down on "inmate bullying," investigating all "unnatural" deaths since 2006 and how officials handled them in the 12 provinces where they were reported, SPP Deputy Prosecutor Sun Qian told a video conference on Friday.

The government urged prosecuting authorities to send supervisors to detention centers to monitor police work. The SPP and the ministry will cooperate in setting up an information network linking supervision offices with detention centers to watch over prisoners.

A spate of unnatural deaths in detention centers shocked the Chinese public in recent months, sparking concern over the management of the facilities by police departments.

In addition to Li Qiaoming's case, 19-year-old Xu Gengrong died in March in a detention center in Shaanxi Province seven days after he was sent there.

On March 27, 50-year-old Li Wenyan reportedly died in the middle of a "nightmare," according to the head of a detention department in Jiujiang in Jiangxi Province.

In early April, the Ministry of Public Security started a three-month campaign to educate police officers at prisons and detention centers on professional ethics, legal awareness and respect for human rights.


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