Beijing Blitz takes aim at notorious 'black jails'
Beijing police are cracking down on security firms that profit from illegally detaining petitioners trying to air their grievances in the capital.
A six-month campaign aims to rein in unregistered firms that employ unlicensed guards to engage in illegal activities, including helping provincial government offices in the capital hold petitioners in so-called black jails, The Beijing News reported.
It quoted one police official as saying the campaign had a zero tolerance for malpractice 'as a warning to the industry that there is a bottom line that cannot be breached'.
Many black jails - or illegal detention centres - have sprung up in recent years to punish petitioners seeking redress in the capital for complaints that have not been resolved by local governments, rights groups say. Their complaints typically involve illegal land requisitions, corruption and officials' abuse of power - gripes that their local officials consider an embarrassment that could jeopardise their careers.
Petitioners say they are often abducted, roughed up, physically and psychologically abused, kept incommunicado for days or months and deprived of food, sleep and medical care at the makeshift jails before being forcibly repatriated to their hometowns.
The Beijing Morning Post quoted a deputy head of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, Zhang Bing, as saying a black jail in Changping, on the outskirts of Beijing, exposed by the media in August had been closed and guards who beat another guard to death were arrested. He said the operator was paid by five regional government offices in Beijing to illegally detain petitioners 'in the name of stability maintenance'.
Scholars say the central government has neglected the issue for too long. Professor Ai Xiaoming, an outspoken advocate of social equity, said that cracking down on security firms responsible for the illegal detentions was a necessary first step in protecting petitioners' rights.
But Du Mingrong, a petitioner from Jilin who has been trying to seek justice in Beijing for more than a decade, said she was sceptical about the effectiveness of such a campaign.
'Every day I still see lots of cars without number plates parked outside the high court. The local governments are hiring thugs to arrest people arbitrarily,' said Du, who was forcibly taken away by thugs on a street in 2007 and sent to 're-education through labour' in her home province until 2009.
The group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said it documented at least 2,600 cases of detention in black jails last year - a figure it said was 'a gross underestimation'.
'Unless these black jails are closed down, the petitioners' situation is unlikely to improve,' said researcher Wang Songlian. 'The government has made similar orders before. It has ordered liaison offices of local governments to close, but they continue to exist and run black jails in the capital.'