- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - China plans to clamp down on inmate abuse at its prisons following more than a dozen suspicious deaths this year, according to a report by the country’s highest investigative body.

Since January, 15 people have died across 12 provinces while in police detention. Seven were beaten to death, three committed suicide and two died in what were termed accidents, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday. The other three deaths are still under investigation.

The new campaign aims to crack down on inmate bullying, step up inspections of China’s nearly 3,000 detention centers and investigate all unnatural prison deaths since 2006, said a report posted on the Web site of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate over the weekend.

“Management must improve the incident reporting and accident investigation systems, and decrease prison bullying,” it said.

In February, online bloggers questioned reports that an inmate had died during a game of hide-and-seek in southwest China, spurring an investigation that uncovered evidence he had been beaten to death by another inmate.

China last week pledged in a human rights action plan to do more to prevent illegal detention and torture, to inform detainees and their families of their rights and to take steps to prevent prisoners from being hurt during interrogations.

China is believed to execute more people annually than any other country, but the actual figure remains a state secret for reasons that remain obscure.

Chinese convictions are swift, with trials for capital cases routinely taking just a day or two. Executions are meted out within a few months of conviction, despite a 2007 policy change that mandates all capital cases be reviewed by China’s Supreme Court.

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