Officers charged over student's death in custody

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 2017, 9:00am

Two police officers have been charged over the apparent torture and death of a senior high school student at a Shaanxi detention centre, in what is the latest in a string of suspicious mainland deaths in custody.

Xu Gengrong, a 19-year-old student from Danfeng High School in Danfeng county in Shangluo, was detained by county police on February 28 for interrogation over the murder of a 21-year-old female high school student, Peng Lina, 20 days earlier.

But Xu died behind bars on March 8. His family says he died of torture inflicted during an interrogation.

A statement issued by the county government said Xu's face suddenly turned yellow during interrogation at 10.30am on March 8.

He also appeared short of breath, had a weak pulse and was salivating. Police officers immediately sent him to Danfeng County Hospital but he died at 11am despite emergency treatment.

The statement said prosecutors were investigating Wang Qingbao, a senior officer in charge of disciplinary inspection at the county public security bureau, and the head of the criminal police team, Sun Peng, for 'dereliction of duty'. The former was detained on Monday and the latter released on bail on Tuesday, Xinhua reported.

Without providing evidence to explain what happened during Xu's custody, police said that Xu confessed to Peng's murder.

But mainland media have been awash with reports this week featuring claims made by Xu's family that Xu died of torture and was not the murderer.

Xu's uncle, who witnessed the postmortem examination by the Shaanxi Provincial People's Procuratorate and Shangluo Municipal People's Procuratorate on March 9, said Xu had swollen wrists, internal bleeding to the head and abrasions on his body, Xinhua reported.

Xu's case is the latest high-profile suspicious death in a mainland detention centre.

In Yunnan, 24-year-old Li Qiaoming died last month in a Jinning county detention centre, setting off widespread public appeals for the administration of the centres to be taken away from the Ministry of Public Security.

Beijing-based lawyer Zhang Sizhi said torture and abuse in detention centres had haunted the public security system for decades.

'Some people have suggested separating detention oversight from investigation, and removing the centres from the authority of the public security system, but my experience tells me that this might not be the best solution to reform this rotten system in China,' Mr Zhang said

'A possible solution is to set up an independent jail and detention administration agency which would be overseen by someone directly subject to the State Council.'

Peking University Law School professor Chen Ruihua said a 'blizzard of reform' was urgently needed to isolate detention from the public security authorities to minimise the potential for abuse of power.

'But there are no signs the decision makers in the system are determined to carry out thorough reform, considering the drawbacks of judicial reform during the past several years,' Professor Chen said.

'Detention centres are the most profitable segment of public security power.

'It's extremely difficult for other organs such as the Ministry of Justice or the procuratorate to take this away.'