Deaths Highlight Continued Problem of Torture, Poor Oversight in Detention Facilities

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Deaths Highlight Continued Problem of Torture, Poor Oversight in Detention Facilities

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, October 6, 2009) CHRD has recently learned of three cases of individuals who died allegedly as a result of torture or ill-treatment while in custody, cases which highlight continued problems with the management of detention facilities, the use of violence against detainees, and the lack of independent oversight or proper judicial means to address these abuses.

These cases raise serious concerns over the Chinese government’s commitment to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which it ratified 21 years ago in 1988. In November 2008, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) noted “widespread torture and ill-treatment and insufficient safeguards during detention” [1] after it reviewed China’s State Report.

The persistence of torture has also received wide domestic attention since February this year after a young man, Li Qiaoming (李荞明), died in a Yunnan detention center. The authorities originally attributed Li’s death to injuries sustained while playing a hide-and-seek game (躲猫猫). After an investigation, officials admitted Li had been beaten by other inmates. After more cases of alleged torture were exposed on the internet, several articles were published by the state media and departmental regulations were issued recognizing the existence of torture and proclaiming the government’s determination to eliminate it. However, as the cases below attest, talk about torture has not been translated into “immediate steps to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment throughout the country” [2], as recommended by CAT.

The Case of Liu Fengqin

On July 31, sixty-six year-old Liu Fengqin (刘凤芹), a petitioner from Liuguangtun Village, Liyuan Town, Kaiping District, Tangshan, Hebei, was sent to one year of Re-Education through Labor (RTL) for “disturbing order in a public place by petitioning”. Because of her advanced age, she was originally allowed to serve her term outside of an RTL camp; however, following a statement from the CCP Central Committee Political-Legal Committee issued in August[3] (discussed below), the original decision was changed and, on August 15, Liu was sent to Hebei Province Number One RTL Camp.

Ten days later, on August 25, a lawyer hired by Liu’s family visited her. After the visit, the lawyer told Liu’s daughter that Liu’s health was “very poor” and that she was unable to walk. Liu’s family then filed an administrative lawsuit appealing the RTL decision at Tangshan City Lubei District Court, but were told by the presiding judge that “upper-level [authorities] have issued guidelines stating that no cases regarding this kind of RTL can be accepted”. CHRD has documented similar cases in other parts of China where local courts refuse to hear administrative lawsuits filed by petitioners challenging their RTL punishment.

On September 23, Liu’s husband, also a veteran petitioner, was detained in Beijing for petitioning about local corruption, the same cause for which Liu had made over 35 trips to the capital. He was sent to the same RTL camp as Liu, but when he asked to see her, officials told him that she had been “transferred”, refusing to say where she had been sent. Family members tried to locate Liu, and only after contacting a government employee who worked for the local Bureau of Judicial Affairs did they learn that Liu had died on September 25. According to the official, the cause was heart disease.

When family members went to the RTL camp for an explanation, camp management refused to give a statement or allow them to see Liu’s body.

The Case of Li Shulian

A developing story that CHRD is currently monitoring involves the suspicious death of Li Shulian (李淑莲), a petitioner from Longkou, Shandong Province, on October 3. Li’s death has been widely discussed by netizens. li-shulianReportedly, Li was kidnapped in Beijing by interceptors dispatched by the Longkou government on September 3 and had been detained in a black jail, beaten and abused. Officials have declared Li’s death to be a “suicide by hanging”. Fellow petitioners have disputed this claim, citing ill-treatments Li previously suffered at the hands of government interceptors. CHRD is yet to verify the details of the case.

CHRD note that both Liu Fengqin and Li Shulian are both petitioners and we worry that their deaths may reflect a hardening attitude on the part of officials towards petitioners. Prior to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, the CCP Central Committee Political-Legal Committee issued a formal document in August, followed by a set of “Frequently Asked Questions” in late September to clarify the official line on the handling of petitions, outlining punishment for persistent or “trouble-making” petitioning. Measures like this were part of a crackdown on petitioners in preparation of the anniversary, to make sure that Beijing is free of these potential “troublemakers”. The crackdown may have the effect of encouraging interceptors to take even harsher measures against petitioners, contributing to the women’s deaths.

The Case of Shiyi Yuedu

In June, shortly after his twentieth birthday, Shiyi Yuedu (石一约都), a member of the Yi ethnic minority group from Zhaojue County, Sichuan Province serving three years for larceny, died in Shanxi’s Datong Prison. Prison officials told the family that Shiyi had died from an “illness”. Family members reported that this was the first time they had heard of any health problems; Shiyi had been a normal, healthy boy before he was sent to prison. Incredulous and grief-stricken, his family demanded an autopsy to verify the cause of death.

Prison officials, however, offered the family a deal: if they would forego an autopsy, the family would be compensated tens of thousands of RMB for Shiyi’s death. But, if the family insisted on an autopsy, and the official verdict was in line with the prison’s version of events, they would receive nothing. The family firmly believes that their son was beaten to death, citing clear evidence of physical abuse they said was still visible when they were allowed to view his body. However, in the absence of an independent legal system necessary to guarantee an impartial and honest autopsy, the family is worried that it will be impossible to confirm their suspicions, and that any medical professional responsible will be pressured to give an autopsy that agrees with prison officials. The family has yet to decide what to do.

The family probably also has in mind the case of Ma Zhenguo (马振国), a prisoner who died in Datong Prison following suspicious circumstances in March 2007. Although the autopsy concluded that Ma died as the result of repeated external injuries and that a prison supervisor named Zhang Jiangfeng (张江峰) even acknowledged having beaten Ma, the local Procuratorate decided against prosecuting Zhang and other perpetrators. Zhang continues to work at the prison.


CHRD calls on the Chinese government to:

  • “Take prompt measures to ensure that all instances of deaths in custody are independently investigated and that those responsible for such deaths resulting from torture, ill-treatment or willful negligence are prosecuted” as recommended by CAT. [4]
  • Allow greater supervision of detention facilities by members of the public, including the media, deputies to the People’s Congresses and civil society groups.
  • Strengthen the independence of the judiciary by abolishing the Political-Legal Committee.
  • “Abolish the use of unofficial personnel to harass human rights defenders, including…petitioners” and “investigate all attacks against…petitioners” as recommended by CAT.[5]
  • “Abolish all forms of administrative detention, including “Re-education through Labor” and “ensure that no one is detained in any secret detention facility”, also recommended by CAT. [6]

For more information, please see:

“Petitioner Liu Fengqin, a Petitioner who Exposes Corruption in Hebei’s Tangshan Dies asa result of Persecution in Re-education through Labor Camp (河北唐山举报腐败的访民刘凤芹在劳教所中被迫害致死)”, October 6, 2009

“Successive ‘Hide and Seek’ Incidents with Inmates at Shanxi’s Datong Prison (山西大同监狱接连发生服刑人员“躲猫猫)”, October 5, 2009

“Death of Shandong Petitioner Li Shulian Causes an Uproar among Petitioners, Netizens (山东访民李淑莲死亡引起访及网友一片哗然)”, October 4, 2009

Persistent Torture, Unaccountable Torturers, November 5, 2008

Media Contacts:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin): +852 8191 6937

Jiang Yingying, Researcher (English and Mandarin): +852 8170 0237

[1] Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture: China”, November 21, 2008,

[2] Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture: China”, November 21, 2008,


[4] Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture: China”, November 21, 2008,

[5] Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture: China”, November 21, 2008,

[6] Committee against Torture, “Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture: China”, November 21, 2008,

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