Naked in a cage for 5 years for knife attack

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HIS CRIME was to attack a policeman with a knife 10 years ago in China's southern province of Guangdong. His punishment has been to be kept naked in a cage for five years, hobbled by shackles round his legs. The case was never brought to trial because he was deemed mentally ill.

The Chinese reporters who discovered Deng Qilu said he quickly gobbled the food they passed through the bars, muttering that he hadn't been fed for two days, or perhaps three.

Even in country with as erratic a human rights record as China's, the revelation that the authorities in the countryside still rely on the same kind of savage methods towards the mentally unbalanced that were used by their ancestors in feudal times has come as a shock.

The newspaper that broke the story, the Yangcheng Evening News, published two photographs of Deng and daringly remarked that "some" local police regarded his detention as inhumane. "There is no sign the authorities are going to handle this case appropriately," it noted. "How much long will Deng Qilu `live' in a cage?"

The answer is ... no one really knows. For Deng Qilu's nightmarish sojourn is not the result of some bureaucratic bungle. The tiny prison, constructed of steel bars and concrete pipes, was first set up beside a sewage ditch outside a village police station. Later, the newspaper said, the police had it towed to a courtyard belonging to Deng's family, where it now stands underneath a banana tree.

Asked by reporters why he was in a cage, the man answered: "They don't allow me to talk." A police spokesman contacted by the newspaper said: "Maybe they locked him away to stop him hitting people."

China's authorities have made much of recent alleged improvements to their judicial system, and of a growing commitment to the rule of law. And in one sense, the mere fact the case of Deng Qilu was published at all is a good sign, another indication that the country's once slavish press is beginning to investigate and expose social ills.