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Custody cases reviewed
( 2003-08-16 15:02) (China Daily)

We have seen plenty of bluff-and-bluster campaigns that ended up in bubbles.

But the Ministry of Public Security's decisions to end extended detentions and address public complaints about police conduct seem to have some substance.

The ministry has ordered a nationwide review by the year's end of cases where people have been kept in custody for prolonged periods of time.

A separate instruction on Wednesday required an extensive study of public complaints on file about police misconduct that have been ignored or covered up.

The ministry has since January staged a campaign on the so-called "five prohibitions," which target unlawful use of weapons, alcoholism and gambling among police officers, and "30 facilities for people's convenience," which feature simplified procedures for residence, vehicle, traffic and passport control.

A programme to rectify misconduct at police stations is going on across the country.

If those moves deal, by and large, with the symptoms of the ailments, the latest measures get closer to the roots. They touch upon the way police authorities see and use the coercive power they feel bestowed.

In cases where suspects qualify for bail or living at home under surveillance and do not constitute potential damage to public security, the country's Criminal Procedure Law permits a maximum of 37 days of custody - at most 30 days for public security departments to apply for the procuratorate's approval for an arrest and seven days for the latter to deliver a decision.

But the latitude the law allows the police authorities is vulnerable to abuse.

In some cases, suspects have been held in custody year after year without prosecution. In others, the prospect of awaiting prosecution beyond custody was exploited as a pretext for extortion.

Reviews of cases of extended detention may curtail gross infringements by police officers of citizens' freedom and uncover some of the darkest secrets of police corruption.

The ministry's decision to squarely face the public's scrutiny and address its concerns is a show of resolve. May it is followed by a serious clean-up this time around.

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