Group slams China’s drug user detention centers

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BEIJING (AP) — Drug addicts are denied proper treatment in China’s state-run rehabilitation centers and are sometimes beaten and forced to work without pay, a human rights group said Thursday.

A 2008 law demanding humanitarian treatment and banning punishment of drug users in detention has been poorly implemented, leading to continuing — sometimes lethal — abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report.

“Warehousing large numbers of drug users and subjecting them to forced labor and physical abuse is not rehabilitation,” Joe Amon, the New York-based group’s director of health and human rights, said in a statement.

“The Chinese government should stop these abuses and ensure that the rights of suspected drug users are fully respected,” Amon said.

The report examines China’s centers for “compulsory isolation and detoxification” and includes interviews with 33 current and former detainees and 25 workers for private groups dealing with AIDS and drug-use issues.

Chinese drug addicts are routinely sent to such detention houses for terms of at least two years, without charge or trial. At any given time, about half a million addicts are believed to be held, the report said. Most are heroin users.

The 2008 law ended the practice of sending drug users to labor camps, ordering them instead to be sent for community rehabilitation or to specialized drug rehabilitation centers. It also banned physical and verbal abuse and required that they be provided with proper treatment and paid for any work they performed.

However, Human Rights Watch said the law was vaguely defined and has been largely ignored, resulting in a continuation of past practices under a different legal rubric.

Virtually wiped out after the 1949 Communist revolution, drug use came roaring back in the 1980s following the relaxation of economic and social strictures. China now has about 1.2 million registered drug addicts, although the actual number of users is believed to be far higher.

The ministries of public security and health did not immediately respond to requests Wednesday for comment on the report.

Giovanni Nicotera, who heads the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s China office, said the government knows the system doesn’t work — addicts going through rehabilitation at these centers very often return to drugs — and is working to address the problems.

“Being detained in these centers not only does not help drug users to recover, as evidenced by the high rates of relapse, but also increases the likelihood that an individual will become infected with HIV,” said Nicotera, who had not seen the Human Rights Watch report.

Recent advances include the setting up of methadone clinics and adoption of new laws and regulations, he said.

Despite that, AIDS activist Wan Yanhai, founder of the Beijing-based Aizhixing Institute, said many addicts remain fearful of the rehabilitation system.

“Many drug users, when caught by police, would rather admit that they are trafficking drugs than using drugs because at least there is some kind of legal procedure involved in a drug trafficking charge,” Wan said.

An Aizhixing volunteer in the southwestern province of Yunnan bordering the “Golden Triangle” drug-producing region said complaints of abuse at rehabilitation centers are rife.

“The beating of drug users is still a very common problem,” said the volunteer, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. “The beating has just become more hidden after the new law.”

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Associated Press researcher Xi Yue contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

Human Rights Watch report: http://www.hrw.org/node/87467