Washington, Feb 7: In a rare legal attack on the obscure ‘black jail’ system used to suppress dissent in Beijing, a court sentenced 10 men to prison for illegally detaining petitioners and ordered them to pay compensation to their victims.
The men, all farmers from the city of Yuzhou in central China’s Henan province, were given sentences ranging from six months to two years for intercepting and imprisoning a group of people, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Xinhua reported that three of the 10 were minors and therefore had their sentences commuted.
The court also determined that 10 of the 11 illegally detained petitioners were entitled to between 1,300 and 2,400 yuan each in lost wages, transportation and other costs, according to the news agency.
The tradition dates back to imperial times, when the common people would flock to Beijing to seek redress from the emperor.
Officially, the Chinese capital welcomes petitioners. Unofficially, according to human rights groups, Beijing puts immense pressure on local governments to keep petitioners from getting to or staying in the city.
According to the report, in order to comply, local governments dispatch teams of thugs, sometimes referred to as ‘interceptors’, to round up Beijing-bound trouble-makers and jail them in ad hoc black jails until they can be transported home, where they’re often punished or threatened.
The black jail system has long sullied Beijing’s image and Tuesday’s decision isn’t the first time the city has taken action against it.
After denying the existence of the illegal detention centers for years, Beijing police announced a crackdown in 2011, taking aim at local security companies involved in setting up or running them.
Still, it’s extremely rare for a Beijing court to publicly acknowledge the existence of the system, not to mention punishing those found to have participated in it.
According to Xinhua, the men detained the petitioners for two to six days in a pair of courtyards in the eastern suburbs Beijing before being arrested by police on May 2.
The petitioners had come to Beijing to complain about compensation they had received from Henan authorities after their property was forcibly demolished, the news agency said, quoting one of the petitioners as saying her blouse was pulled off as the men shoved her into a car.
Human rights advocates portrayed Tuesday’s verdict as evidence that Beijing is eager to be seen as upholding rule of law, but said it remained to be seen whether the government was serious about reforming the system, the report added. (ANI)