October 13, 2009 / 3:39 AM / 10 years ago

Chinese reveals latest in series of deaths in custody

BEIJING (Reuters) - A man starved to death in police custody in Beijing, state media reported on Tuesday, the latest of a series of deaths in detention which has triggered a public drive for reform of China’s penal system.

Qi Changjiang, a 30-year-old man detained for selling fake receipts, died on Sept 17 in Beijing after being held at a district detention centre. The diagnosis said his “heartbeat suddenly stopped... 49 days without eating caused his death,” the China Daily said.

Police said he refused to eat.

China launched an investigation in April into deaths in detention centres, which are controlled by police and are used to hold suspects for an indefinite period before trials begin.

In the Chinese legal system, which relies heavily on confessions for conviction, people can be detained without access to lawyers or family for some time before being formally arrested and charged.

Human rights organisations and activists have routinely documented deaths and torture in Chinese police custody as well as in the extra-judicial “re-education through labour” system.

The Ministry of Justice, which runs the formal prison system, is trying to wrest control of the detention centres from police.

At least seven people have been beaten to death in detention centres in China in 2009, Chinese media reported following a public outcry after one detainee’s death was attributed to a game of “hide and seek.”

Qi’s wife told the paper that police prevented her from meeting her husband during his detention, denying they were holding him.

Eight other “unnatural” deaths, including three suicides and two accidents, have also been recorded this year, state media reported earlier this year.

Reporting by Yu Le and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Nick Macfie

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