Drug addicts in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan have described a litany of abuses including forced labor, beatings, and neglect at rehabilitation clinics in the region.
Gao Qiang, who has been in and out of rehab in his native city of Kaiyuan, close to the infamous Golden Triangle opium-producing region, said he had been forced to sit and work until the early hours of the morning.
He said that staff at the Kaiyuan No.1 Rehabilitation Center had beaten a fellow patient to death after he failed to meet production targets.
"He was never able to do what he was supposed to do, so he often got beaten up," Gao said of his fellow patient at the Kaiyuan No.1 Rehabilitation Center.
"He was in despair, and he had planned to swallow a spanner to kill himself, but he was found out," he said.
"He was taken into the bathroom and beaten up by several staff members, during which he gave a sudden moan, fell to the floor and never moved again."
"They rushed him to the hospital but he died on the way."
Gao said he had been forced to sit from 8.00 a.m. until midnight or the early hours of the morning daily, carrying out unskilled labor on behalf of the clinic.
"It wasn't that the labor was very strenuous, but they made us sit for long hours in a single position ... with no opportunity to move, so I ended up with problems in both of my legs," said Gao.
"Since I came out of there in 2005 both my legs became swollen and I haven't been able to walk," said Gao.
"If you didn't make your target, they would beat you with some work tools ... they would pin you on the floor and beat you on the chest and back."
Gao said that people frequently died from such beatings. "If someone didn't die, that would be unusual," he said.
Former rehab patient Zhao Qiwu was hospitalized in August 2010 after a beating inside a forced rehabilitation clinic in Yunnan's Gejiu city, his mother Zhou Lifen said.
"He was swollen all around his mouth and arms, and there was a huge swollen lump under his buttocks," Zhou recalled. "I asked him how many people beat him, and Zhao Qiwu held up five fingers."
Zhao died a few days later at the age of 37. The hospital papers detailed the cause of death as a series of infections linked to AIDS.
The family are still highly skeptical about the official cause of death, believing instead that it was caused by the beatings he received at the hands of clinic staff.
China's ruling Communist Party inherited a population of around 20 million drug addicts when it took power in 1949, blaming the wave of addiction on British opium sellers.
But economic reforms in the 1980s sparked a relaxation of border controls, sending drugs from the neighboring Golden Triangle flooding across the border into Yunnan.
The provincial capital, Kunming, is home to an estimated 17,000 intravenous drug users alone, more than 70 percent of whom will also carry HIV, according to the USAID-funded drug user aid organization PSI.
The group, which has set up an alternative network of community rehab centers, says that drug users habitually cycle through government-backed compulsory programs many times, with no apparent results.
Staff got 'very angry'
Wang Wen, a drug user from Gejiu city, reported a similar experience to that of Gao Qiang.
After several stints in labor camp and compulsory rehab centers, he is now a senior adviser to a nongovernment group providing services to drug users.
Wang said he recalled the case of a user who urinated and defecated on the floor in an attempt to persuade staff to send him home.
"The supervisory staff got very angry and stripped him naked and poured cold water over him. They did this until he died several days later," he said.
Neither Gao's nor Wang's accounts could be independently confirmed.
But former Gejiu city rehab inmate Qin Zhengye said that beatings of patients inside compulsory rehab clinics are "very common."
Qin, who is now a social worker, recalled the beating of one user who had hidden away some mattress springs, possibly for self-harm or to barter with others.
"He was dragged off and beaten up by the shift leader until his arms were broken and his back injured and he couldn't stand up," Qin said.
"I saw him later, after he got out. He was picking through litter to survive," he added.
Former rehab patients say the beatings were mostly carried out by the clinics' own security personnel.
Inconsistencies in report
Wang Jingbo, head of the China International Drugs Rehabilitation Association, denied that any beatings take place in rehab clinics.
"This wouldn't happen," Wang said. "There is no such thing."
But a lawyer acting for Zhao's family, who are trying to win redress for his death in rehab, said there are major inconsistencies in the official version of his death.
"The injuries and their position on his body weren't reflected in the official autopsy report," said the lawyer, surnamed Wang. "His legs had sustained external injuries ... [The autopsy] didn't mention them, or only described some of them."
Yunnan News reporter Wu Fushui has been following Zhao's case, and said he has seen surveillance camera footage of the his entire stay in the clinic.
"There is just one 10-minute section which isn't there. It has been ... wiped off. I have watched all of it," Wu said.
"There's just that 10-minute section, according to my memory. Not a long period of time," he said. "Nothing out of the ordinary happens in the video."
Reported by Shen Hua for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.