More secret prisons locking up petitioners in Beijing have been exposed by mainland media, after several similar facilities were revealed to the public in the past couple of years.
Many petitioners who claimed to have been imprisoned recently in two such 'black jails' in Beiqijia town in Beijing's Changping district suspected that they had been tracked by local authorities from their hometowns, who co-operated with those running the jails, Beijing News reported yesterday.
From July 1 to July 12, at least 50 people who came to Beijing from various provinces to seek justice had been held in a courtyard house in Nanqijiazhuang village in the town, the report said, citing people who said they were among the detained. It said police busted the prison on July 12 after receiving a tip-off, freeing 13 people confined there that day.
More than 20 other people were held in a nearby village called Lingshang in March, according to Chen Hongxian , a retired worker from Funing county, Jiangsu province, who came to petition on March 8 against alleged corruption in the county government, but ended up being locked there for three days.
Chen told the South China Morning Post that their mobile phones and identity cards were taken away by guards when they were detained, so they couldn't contact anyone.
Mainlanders who don't trust lower-level petition offices often take their complaints to higher authorities in Beijing, but many local governments consider such complaints an embarrassment, and it is almost an open secret that they purge these people from the capital by using mental or physical torture.
Xu Zhiyong, a legal expert who, along with other activists, first exposed such jails in Beijing in 2008, said the central government's neglect of the issue has made the existence of such jails possible.
'I don't think they could still exist today if the central authorities decided to clamp down on them,' he said. 'Many problems that people petition about stem from the country's political system. They will continue popping up as long as there's no political reform.'
Sun Huaiyuan, who hails from Yancheng, Jiangsu, filed a petition at the reception centre for petitions in Fengtai district on June 30, and said he was immediately forced onto a minibus and taken to the black jail in Nanqijiazhuang village, Beijing News reported.
He was quoted as saying that the filing procedure went smoothly at the office in Fengtai district, and he even ran into a staff worker of the petition office from his hometown inside the hall. But when he left, several bald men with tattoos carried him to the vehicle.
Cellmates from provinces including Jiangsu, Hubei, Henan and Shaanxi said they had also seen or contacted their local petition office's staff in Beijing before they were taken to the prison.
They were jailed for between five and 40 days, Sun said.
Several of the released petitioners said they got their mobile phones and identity cards back from the petition offices back in their hometowns.
Chen said he even saw local officials give money to the thugs who took him to the prison, when they released him at the gate of a hotel in the capital.
'The 'hijackers' were handed 2,800 yuan (HK$3,394) before they let us out of the minibus,' he recalled. 'Then we were told to get into a [vehicle] from Funing,' he said.
Asked whether he would petition in the capital again, he said, 'not after having such an experience'.