Dec 14, 2012 07:30 PM

Court Cases Raise Hopes Gov't Will Clean Up Black Jails


 An official facility for police and officials to meet petitioners. Some unlucky petitioners go from here to black jails

(Beijing) – Scattered around Beijing are so-called black jails, notorious underground detention centers for temporarily holding petitioners in the capital before they are returned to their home provinces.

In recent years, several Beijing courts have heard cases regarding these jails, raising hopes that the central government will finally starts to clean up these facilities, which have been known to torture people.

However, the secret way the government and courts handle these cases reveals the balancing act officials face: on the one hand they know the public is outraged, yet concerns about social stability prompt them to continue to allow local governments to grab, detain and return to their homes people who come to the capital to complain about injustices back home.  

In June 2012, a court in Changping District sentenced nine people involved in operating a black jail. They were convicted of operating an illegal business and illegal detention. The verdict, however, was kept so secret that even the plaintiffs, several petitioners who had been detained in the black jail, did not know it.

In this and other cases, the verdicts were not made public and courts refused to answer inquiries.

A Courtyard Compound

When Min Xiaoling came to Beijing in October 2012 her trip was different than previous ones when she came as a petitioner. The former high school music teacher from Hubei Province, who had been detained in a black jail, had come this time to hear a verdict from a court in Changping District.

Min needed the verdict in a criminal case to start a civil suit against the operators of a black jail. But to her surprise, the court refused to provide the document.

In July 2011, Min came to petition against the forced demolition of her home in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei. She submitted her plea to the reception desk of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, the official administrative organ to answer people's petitions.

However, shortly after filing the petition she was taken away by several staff members of the Hubei government's representative office in Beijing. A while later, she was handed over to several strangers. They took her to a small courtyard compound where she was confined to a small room.

"I was searched and they took away my things, including my ID card," Yan said. "Every day they gave me only one meal: a small steamed bun and one glass of water."

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