CHINA> National
Jail abuse victims may get compensation
By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-28 10:06

Detention houses and jails must offer compensation if their officers kill or severely injure inmates, according to a draft law expected to be passed on Saturday.

Compensation must be paid for injuries suffered when officials illegally detain, abuse or beat inmates or allow others to beat inmates, according to the latest draft amendment to the decades-old State Compensation Law.

The amendment aims to compensate victims whose rights and interests are infringed upon by administrative agencies or officials.

The draft was tabled for discussion at a five-day legislative session of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee that started yesterday.

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The changes follow a string of inmate deaths in detention houses this year, which have aroused widespread public concern.

"If there's no major difference of opinion, we suggest the draft amendment be passed at this legislative session," Hong Hu, vice-chairman of the NPC Law Committee, said yesterday.

Previous drafts did not list detention houses as an institute that had to pay compensation, nor did it mention compensation should be paid when officials abuse or allow others to beat inmates.

Cong Bin, a NPC Standing Committee member, said the changes are necessary as "abuse and tolerating violence do exist in detention houses".

"Some officers do not violate the law themselves, but they stand aside when violations occur. That could be considered as passively breaking the law," he said.

A typical example occurred in February when 24-year-old Li Qiaoming was beaten to death in a detention house in Yunnan province. Authorities blamed his death on an accident during a game of hide and seek. A later investigation shows Li died of an assault by another prisoner while two officers were at the scene.

Figures released by the Supreme People's Court on April 17 showed there had been 15 unnatural deaths up to that point in the year.

More recent figures have not been released.

Ying Songnian, a professor with China University of Political Science and Law, said inmates are not always capable of protecting themselves.

"So when he or she is injured or dies in detention facilities or prisons, the supervision and management departments must assume the liability and compensate the victims unless they can prove the injuries and deaths were self-inflicted," he said.

The latest draft amendment also requires institutes to pay compensation in a timely fashion, but it expands the time limit for courts to handle complicated State cases from one month to three months.

It also changes a stipulation granting compensation to victims with "serious mental trauma". In the previous draft, only mental anguish in cases of death or disability could get State compensation.

Hong said many legislators have proposed detailed stipulations on emotional harm, but such cases are usually very complicated.

"Given that we still lack experience in handling such cases, it's better just to make a principle in law," he said.

However, experts said it is a pity the latest draft amendment, which is likely to be made law this weekend, fails to raise the low compensation standards, and retains a complicated application procedure.

Under the current law, compensation is calculated according to the average daily salary of a State employee in the previous year. The current average daily income is 112 yuan ($16), and compensation for a death case is 20 times that amount, or an average of 2,240 yuan.

From 1997 to 2007, the country's courts have dealt with 25,000 State compensation cases, but only 8,500 cases got court support.