Woman Held in Morgue

Chinese officials apologize for the 'mistake' after a public outcry.
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A policeman stops a group of petitioners from demonstrating outside a hospital in Beijing, May 7, 2012.
A policeman stops a group of petitioners from demonstrating outside a hospital in Beijing, May 7, 2012.

Authorities in the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang have admitted that "mistakes" were made in the case of a woman who was locked in a disused morgue for three years and have promised to pay her compensation.

Chen Qingxia, 44, had been petitioning the authorities over her husband's treatment in a labor camp when she herself was sentenced to 18 months' "re-education through labor" and then held in an abandoned building once used to store dead bodies, official media reported on Friday.

An employee who answered the phone at Chen's local Dailing district police station in her home city of Yichun said he knew about her case.

"I heard about that," he said. But he added: "I'm not really clear about the details."

Public outcry

Chen's case sparked a public outcry after her desperate posters calling for help stuck to the windows caught media attention last December, and an investigation was launched, Xinhua news agency reported.

It said four officials including three police officers in Yichun city and the head of a district-level complaints office in the city were fired for "mishandling" Chen's case, the report said.

Chen's husband Song Lisheng was handed the original labor camp sentence for one year and seven months for allegedly breaking quarantine restrictions during the SARS epidemic of 2003.

Police continued to hold him even after Chen's petition was successful and a local court had ordered him freed.

Chen was detained on a further complaints trip to Beijing in 2007 with her son, then 12 years old, from whom she was separated by officials and whom she hasn't seen since.

According to Xinhua, compensation rules state that Chen can expect her family's medical bills to be paid by the government, and can expect continued assistance in looking for her son.

Shifting stance?

Guangdong and Yunnan provinces last week announced they were discontinuing the highly controversial "re-education through labor" system this week, in line with pledges from central government.

But rights activists said it is still too early to say whether the system will simply continue under a different name.

Earlier this week, a court in Beijing upheld prison terms from six months to two years for 10 men convicted in November of illegally detaining petitioners from the northern province of Henan, sparking hope among rights activists that the government may be shifting its stance on the extrajudicial detention of those who complain about officials.

China says it receives between 3 million and 4 million complaints in the form of "letters and visits" annually, with the number peaking at 12.72 million in 2003.

Many petitioners are trying to win redress for alleged cases of official wrongdoing, including forced evictions, beatings in custody, and corruption linked to lucrative land sales.

Some have been petitioning for decades.

The contemporary "letters and visits" petitioning system was formally established in 1951 and reinstated during the 1980s following the large number of appeals against summary verdicts handed down during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution from 1966-76.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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