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China: Secret “Black Jails” Hide Severe Rights Abuses– Report

Posted by Author on November 11, 2009

Human Rights Watch, November 11, 2009 –

(New York) – Since 2003, large numbers of Chinese citizens have been held incommunicado for days or months in secret, unlawful detention facilities known as “black jails” by state agents who violate detainees’ rights with impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 53-page report, “An Alleyway in Hell,” documents how government officials, security forces, and their agents routinely abduct people off the streets of Beijing and other Chinese cities, strip them of their possessions, and imprison them. These black jails are often located in state-owned hotels, nursing homes, and psychiatric hospitals.

“The existence of black jails in the heart of Beijing makes a mockery of the Chinese government’s rhetoric on improving human rights and respecting the rule of law,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should move swiftly to close these facilities, investigate those running them, and provide assistance to those abused in them.”

Human Rights Watch found that it is usually petitioners who are detained in black jails. These are citizens from mainly rural areas who come to Beijing and other provincial capitals seeking redress for abuses ranging from illegal land grabs and government corruption to police torture. Local officials, with the tolerance of public security authorities, establish the black jails as a way to ensure these complainants are detained, punished, and sent home so that these officials will not suffer demerits under rules that impose bureaucratic penalties when there is a large flow of petitioners from their areas.

The Chinese government has flatly denied the existence of black jails. In an April 2009 Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) press conference, a MOFA official responded to an Al Jazeera correspondent’s query about black jails by stating categorically that, “Things like this do not exist in China.” In June 2009, the Chinese government asserted in the Outcome Report of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of China’s human rights record that, “There are no black jails in the country.”

Black jail guards routinely subject these detainees to abuses including physical violence, theft, extortion, threats, intimidation, and deprivation of food, sleep, and medical care.

A 46-year-old former detainee from Jiangsu province, who spent more than a month in a black jail, cried with fear and frustration as she recalled her abduction.”[The abductors] are inhuman…two people dragged me by the hair and put me into the car. My two hands were tied up and I couldn’t move. Then [after arriving back in Jiangsu] they put me inside a room where there were two women who stripped me of my clothes…[and] beat my head [and] used their feet to stomp my body,” the former detainee said.

The majority of the former black jail detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they were abducted by individuals who provided no legal justification for detention or any information about detainees’ eventual destination or possible length of detention. One 52-year-old petitioner from Liaoning province told Human Rights Watch: “I was detained by retrievers from [my home province of] Liaoning who were in plainclothes and never showed me any identification. I doubt they had any [official] identification. They never told me the reason why they detained me; they never even spoke to me and didn’t tell me how long they were going to detain me for.”

Black jail detainees are also subject to psychological abuse, including threats of sexual violence. A 42-year-old former detainee from Sichuan province was told by her black jail guards that if she attempted to escape they would “… take me to the male prison and let [the inmates] take turns raping [me].” Human Rights Watch also documented black jail guards’ use of sleep and food deprivation and denial of needed medical care as a means of punishment or to control or elicit information from detainees. A 70-year-old former detainee from Hubei province resorted to a three-day hunger strike to compel her captors to allow her access to a doctor.

Minors under the age of 18 have been detained in black jails in blatant violation of China’s commitments to the rights of children. One former detainee interviewed by Human Rights Watch was a 15-year-old girl, abducted from the streets of Beijing while petitioning on behalf of her crippled father, who was locked up in a nursing home in Gansu province for more than two months and subjected to severe beatings.

“To visit these kinds of abuses on citizens who have already been failed repeatedly by the legal system is the height of hypocrisy,” said Richardson……. (more details from Human Rights Watch)

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