Police interrogations at five Beijing prisons must now be recorded by surveillance cameras in an effort to make the law enforcement process more transparent.
The regulation, released by the Qinghe branch of the capital's prison bureau and in force since Tuesday, prohibits police from interrogating or conversing with prisoners in areas not covered by surveillance cameras. Officers have also been equipped with tamper-proof mobile video recorders.
Prison officials said the new rule, the first such move on the mainland, was aimed at deterring illegal treatment of prisoners as well as attempts by prisoners to frame police. If it proves successful it could be put into effect in other prisons in the capital.
Media commentators said the rule should be applied to all mainland prisons and especially detention houses, which are infamous for the use of torture to extract confessions.
But internet users have expressed doubts, noting the absence of any scrutiny by a third party. Some said police could evade the rule by claiming a surveillance system had broken or by getting senior prison officials to delete incriminating videos.
Despite being illegal, torture is reportedly commonly used by law enforcement authorities on the mainland, which has led to numerous deaths in custody under suspicious circumstances.
A 24-year-old Yunnan man was beaten to death while behind bars in February last year. Widespread outrage greeted police claims that he had died during a game of hide-and-seek, sparking a three-month nationwide crackdown on prison conditions.
Despite this, at least nine suspicious deaths of inmates have been reported by mainland media in the first half of this year. The police explanations for the injuries suffered by the deceased ranged from sudden illness while drinking water, to fainting in the toilet, drowning in a bathroom basin and falling out of bed.
Four policemen tortured a suspect to death during an interrogation in Henan in February. That same month, a suspect died after being tortured in a Jiangxi detention centre. A similar case occurred in Inner Mongolia in March when a convicted offender died with suspicious wounds.
Torture of Fan Qihang , a defendant in a murder trial in Chongqing, was exposed by his lawyer last month. Fan confessed after an alleged six months of torture.