China to compensate woman for detention in old morgue

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China will compensate a woman who was held in a disused morgue as punishment for going to Beijing to petition against her husband's jailing, state media said on Friday, in an unusual case of the government overturning an extra-judicial detention.

Chen Qingxia was held for three years in an abandoned bungalow once used to store bodies in northeast China's Heilongjiang province after being abducted from Beijing by security officials, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

She had gone to the capital to seek redress for her husband, Song Lisheng, whom she said had been mistreated while serving an 18-month sentence at a re-education through labour camp, Xinhua added.

While China routinely dismisses Western criticism of its human rights record, the government does respond to some abuses, especially the more egregious ones reported by domestic media, in an effort to show that authorities are not above criticism.

Chen's plight came to public attention in December after media reported that people found posters she had put on a window of the building pleading for help, it said.

Four officials, including three police officers, had been fired in connection with the case, Xinhua added.

The government will pay medical bills and living expenses for her and her husband and step up efforts to find their young son, who became separated from Chen when she was abducted in Beijing, it said.

The amount of compensation has yet to be decided.

Chen's case is the second reported in a week of the authorities taking action over illegally detained petitioners. A court in Beijing sentenced 10 people to up to two years in jail for illegally detaining petitioners from another city, state media said on Tuesday.

Petitioners often try to take local disputes ranging from land grabs to corruption to higher levels in Beijing, though only small numbers are ever able to get a resolution.

In many instances, they are rounded up by men hired by provincial authorities to prevent the central government from learning of problems in outlying regions, forced home or held in "black jails", unlawful secret detention facilities.

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