BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese "quack" doctor who believes water causes all diseases and has had at least 16 patients die from his treatment was released early from prison only to kill again, state-run media reported on Thursday.
Hu Wanlin claimed to be an "omnipotent doctor" but dehydrated a man to death, a court found, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for illegally practising medicine, the state-run Global Times said.
Hu, 65, began his self-described healing activities while serving a life sentence for killing a businessman, but was stopped in 1996 after 13 of his patients died, according to reports.
Nonetheless he was released, but was jailed again in 2000 for illegally practising medicine after three more patient deaths, including the then mayor of Luohe city in Henan.
On that occasion, he was sentenced to 15 years, but he was again given his freedom early, the Global Times said.
Hu theorised that all diseases are caused by water, and patients needed to be dehydrated with a "magic medicine" using powerful salts, it added.
"A 22-year-old college student Yun Xuyang, a devotee of traditional Chinese medicine, died after taking a substance provided by Hu," the official news agency Xinhua reported.
China's government health insurance provides limited coverage to most rural residents, leading some to seek out cheaper alternative treatments.
It also has a long history of traditional medicine, much of it with no orthodox scientific evidence backing it up, and elements of which are blamed for driving illegal trade in endangered species.
Lu Wei, one of Hu's protégés, who promoted Hu online as a medical master who could cure diabetes and Aids, was also sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The latest sentences were handed down by a court in Henan, in central China, on Wednesday.
Hu found the official autopsy result hard to swallow, the Global Times said, claiming that he frequently consumes 1.5 kilograms of the salt and liquid mixture without ill-effects.
It was not clear why Hu had not been charged with murder.
According to other Chinese media reports, he was also condemned to 15 years in prison in 1974 for "anti-revolution".