China sentences 10 for detaining petitioners
A Beijing court has sentenced 10 people to prison for illegally detaining petitioners, state media reported Tuesday, in an apparent blow for attempts by local governments to cover up abuses.
The 10 detained petitioners from central Henan province had traveled to the capital hoping to bring their complaints to the central government. Illegal detention of petitioners is believed to be common, but like all legal and public order issues in China, is a matter of great sensitivity. Such petitioners are frequently intercepted by local government agents and detained illegally in shabby hostels known as "black jails."
The government has recently begun acknowledging the existence of such places as part of modest attempts to stamp out the most glaring abuses of power.
The official Xinhua News Agency said on its microblog that the defendants received sentences Tuesday ranging from two years to six months. It said the defendants rounded up 11 petitioners and illegally detained them in two courtyards in Beijing for several days. The court said that this was a violation of citizens' personal rights, Xinhua reported.
Calls to Beijing's Chaoyang District Court failed to get through Tuesday.
The petitioning system harkens back to ancient times when Chinese emperors were obligated to hear complaints brought from commoners in the provinces. In recent years, it has been employed to skirt violence, threats and bureaucratic hurdles put in place to block redress over corruption, illegal land seizures, unjust discrimination and other abuses at the local level.
Black jails have also been used in the past to detain political and religious dissidents, especially members of the outlawed Falun Gong meditation movement.