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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China: Secret "Black Jails" Hide Severe Rights Abuses

November 13, 2009

Unlawful Detention Facilities Breed Violence, Threats, Extortion

For Immediate Release
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
November 12, 2009

New York, November 12, -- 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."

Guards in black jails 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."

Detainees in black jails 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.

Black jails appear to have emerged since the
Chinese government abolished laws permitting the
arbitrary detention of non-residents and
vagrants. While that decision was a welcome move
to curb the police’s powers of arbitrary
detention, black jails now serve as extralegal
detention centers for "undesirables" in cities.
Black jails constitute an unlawful system to
detain petitioners as a means to protect
government officials at the county, municipal,
and provincial levels from financial and career
advancement penalties linked to limiting
petitioning activities by citizens from their
areas in major cities like Beijing. Unpublished
local government documents describe penalties
levied against local officials who fail to take
decisive action when petitioners from their
geographical area seek legal redress in
provincial capitals and Beijing. In addition, the
operators of black jails receive from those
local-level governments daily cash payments of
150 yuan (US$22) to 200 yuan (US$29) per person,
creating another incentive to employ forms of illegal detention.

The detention of petitioners is a violation of
international law, which guarantees the freedom
of expression, and of China’s own Regulations on
Letters and Visits, the law which regulates
petitioning activities. Detaining anyone -- even
suspected offenders -- without legal authority to
do so and without giving the detained recourse to
legal process is a serious violation of several
international instruments as well as China’s
constitution and numerous domestic laws. Under
international law, a state commits an enforced
disappearance when its agents take a person into
custody and it denies holding the person or fails
to disclose the person’s whereabouts.

"China has laws that set out how arrests and
detentions should take place, but the government
is blatantly ignoring those in the cases of black
jails and those detained in them," said
Richardson. "A failure to live up to its own
legal standards -- let alone international
standards -- is not the hallmark of a government aspiring to global respect."

Testimony from former detainees of China’s black jails

"[The guards] entered without a word, grabbed me
-- kneed me in the chest and pounded my lower
belly with their fists until I passed out. After
it was over I was in pain, but they didn’t leave a mark on my body."
-- a former black jail detainee interviewed by Human Rights Watch

"I asked why they were detaining me, and as a
group [the guards] came in and punched and kicked
me and said they wanted to kill me. I loudly
cried for help and they stopped, but from then
on, I didn’t dare [risk another beating]."
-- a former black jail detainee interviewed by Human Rights Watch

"There was no medical treatment [in the black
jail]. I’m not very healthy and combined with the
disgusting conditions inside [the facility], I
was sick every day, but they wouldn’t give me
medical treatment and wouldn’t let me go to see a
doctor. [A guard] said, ‘You don’t want to die
here because your life [to us] isn’t worth one
cent. [If] I want you dead, you can die [here] as easily as an ant.’"
-- a former black jail detainee interviewed by Human Rights Watch

"Every day I could only sleep three hours and
they would at any time wake me in order so that I
couldn’t run away. I was hungry every day, but
couldn’t get enough to eat. The second time I was
detained for 37 days...I lost 20 kilograms."
-- a former black jail detainee interviewed by Human Rights Watch

"‘An Alleyway in Hell,’ China’s Abusive ‘Black Jails,’" is available at:
http://www.hrw.org/en/node/86423

For more information, please contact:
In Hong Kong, Phelim Kine (English, Mandarin): +852 9074 3079 (mobile)
In Hong Kong, Nicholas Bequelin (English, French,
Mandarin): +852-8198-1040 (mobile)
In Hong Kong, Sophie Richardson (English,
Mandarin): +1-917-721-7473 (mobile); or +852-6604-9792 (mobile)
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-7908-728-333 (mobile)
In New York, Minky Worden (English, Cantonese): +1-212-216-1250
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