Tuesday, September 28, 2010

China’s ‘Black Jails’

BEIJING — The authorities are investigating a security company that helps local officials illegally detain desperate citizens who come to the capital to file complaints against them, the state news media reported Monday.

According to China Daily, an official English-language newspaper, the company’s employees posed as police officers and dragooned petitioners into “black jails,” where they were held and sometimes beaten until they could be hauled back to their homes in other provinces.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied that such extralegal detention centers exist.

News about the company, Anyuanding Security Technology Service, was published by Caijing and Southern Metropolis Daily, two publications that often push beyond the boundaries that constrain much of China’s official news media. According to their reports, the company, which earned $3.1 million in 2008, employs 3,000 “interceptors” whose job is to ensnare petitioners before they can reach the central government bureaus where grievances are filed.

According to Southern Metropolis Daily, the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau detained two of Anyuanding’s executives and charged them with “illegally detaining people and illegally operating a business.” The police did not immediately respond to calls for comment on Monday. The company, whose Web site was taken down over the weekend, could not be reached.

The system of interceptors and black jails has flourished in recent years as Chinese citizens, frustrated by official malfeasance or illegal land seizures in their hometowns, come to the capital in the belief that their problems might be solved if they could gain the ear of senior leaders. Studies have shown, however, that problems are resolved for fewer than 2 percent of those who file petitions in Beijing.

Petitioning, allowed by Chinese law, has become a barometer of civic harmony — one that can affect the careers of local officials.

Because the central government rewards or punishes officials based on their ability to maintain social stability, those officials are eager to catch petitioners before they can lodge their complaints.

The interception efforts have apparently been successful. In its official report on human rights released Monday, the Chinese government cited a 3 percent drop in petition filings as proof that things had improved. It was the fifth consecutive decrease, the report said.

According to the reports on Anyuanding, the kidnapped petitioners were taken to abandoned guesthouses, dank basements or rural compounds, where their cellphones and identity cards were confiscated until officials from their hometowns could come to fetch them. Some prisoners reported waiting more than a month.

The decision by Beijing’s public security bureau to take on the matter is significant given its first response. Last week, after Caijing published its investigation, several unidentified police officers pressed the magazine to reveal its sources, saying the article threatened “stability and unity,” according to the editors.

But after Caijing publicized the incident, Beijing’s new police chief, Fu Zhenghua, personally apologized to the deputy editor and assured him that no one on the staff would be punished.

Shortly afterward, the Anyuanding executives were detained.
By ANDREW JACOBS. Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting. Li Bibo contributed research. New York Times

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