Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Sunday, 19 April 2009 14:31 UK

China 'to act over jail deaths'

Inmates eat lunch at a mess hall at Haikou Prison, Hainan Province, China, file pic from 2005
Judges are set to inspect some of China's 3,000 detention centres

China says it is to tighten control of its prisons after cases of suspicious deaths in detention came to light.

About 15 people have died while in police detention this year, according to widespread media reports.

Senior judges and prosecutors will now inspect some of China's nearly 3,000 detention centres, where criminal suspects are held.

The aim of the campaign is to prevent what officials call "unnatural deaths" in the country's jails.

It comes in addition to a campaign to improve the work of prison officers that was announced earlier this month.

The authorities were reporting just five deaths a few weeks ago.

The new figure is an unusually frank admission: The Chinese government does not often admit that its prisoners are not treated properly by the authorities, says the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing.

The attempts to reform detention centres suggest China is serious about improving the country's criminal justice system, says our correspondent.

State media reported that on Friday, five prisons in the south-western state of Sichuan were opened to the public, allowing more than 1,000 local residents to see the conditions inside the jails for themselves.

The move, the first in Sichuan, reportedly aims to promote more civilized management and fair law enforcement and to prevent and reduce crimes.

"The basic human rights of inmates should not be ignored but rather respected and protected fully," Liu Zuoming, head of the provincial department of justice, told Xinhua.

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