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2017-08-10 11:42:55

A young man has died under suspicious circumstances while enrolled at an illegally run internet addiction rehabilitation school in eastern China’s Anhui province, Anhui Business News reported Thursday.

The 18-year-old man’s body was covered in bruises, his mother, identified only by her surname, Liu, told the reporter.

Concerned about her son Li Ao’s addiction to internet games and lack of interest in studying, Liu enrolled him at a nearby “enclosed special training school” called Hefei Positive Energy Education, which promised to help internet-addicted males through counseling and physical exercise.

Teacher Luo, a staff member, assured Liu that the school’s methods were “gentle,” with no lecturing or corporal punishment, Liu said. She signed her son up for 180 days of “enclosed-style growth coaching” for a fee of 22,800 yuan ($3,420). Li arrived at the school on Aug. 3.

Two days later, his parents received a call from the rehab center saying that something had happened. When they arrived, their son had already died and been sent to a funeral home. Upon seeing Li’s body, Liu found that he was covered in bruises from head to toe and had blood around his eyes and mouth.

A post-mortem examination conducted on Sunday identified 20 external wounds on Li’s body, as well as signs of internal bleeding.

A representative from the Baishan Township government, where the school is located, told Anhui Business News that the school had been operating without a license. It opened in May and was warned twice in June by local education authorities to cease operations. If the school did not close voluntarily by Aug. 10, the authorities said, it would be closed forcefully.

Many rehabilitation facilities in China treat perceived behavioral issues such as gambling addiction, video game addiction, drug addiction, and even same-sex attraction. In recent years, a number of high-profile deaths have drawn attention to the poor living environments and dubious treatment methods — including corporal punishment and electroshock therapy — employed by some centers.

Internet and gaming addiction has recently become a widely discussed issue following the explosive popularity of the mobile game “Honour of Kings,” which boasts over 200 million players. The hit game was criticized as irresponsible by state media in June, and its popularity among soldiers has led to it being accused by the People’s Liberation Army Daily of jeopardizing China’s military strength. In July, the game’s parent company, Tencent, introduced new rules limiting the amount of time young users can spend playing the game each day.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A group of teenagers go for a walk in the sun at a rehabilitation facility in Foshan, Guangdong province, Aug. 1, 2012. Zhang Mingshu/VCG)