A Beijing court Sunday denied a report that 10 people who had intercepted and detained petitioners coming to Beijing were sentenced for illegal detention on November 28.
"The court did not pass sentence on a case like that on that day and we are investigating to what extent the story was untrue," said Huang Shuo, spokesman for Beijing's Chaoyang District People's Court, telling the Global Times that the widely circulated report was fake.
A report by Beijing Youth Daily said that 10 suspects, including three minors, from Changge, Central China's Henan Province, had detained a number of petitioners travelling from Henan to Beijing to petition higher authorities.
According to previous reports in May, the 10 suspects were arrested by police at a "detention house" allegedly set up by officers from the Changge office in Beijing to hold petitioners from Henan.
Huang admitted the existence of the case but said a sentence has not yet been passed.
Experts say that cracking down on illegal detentions is significant in warning local governments to protect petitioners' basic rights.
"In order to maintain stability, local governments will try all means to intercept and reduce the number of petitioners, who are living evidence of governments' administrative problems," Yu Jianrong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday.
Yu said that it was more important to punish the officials who give the orders. "But most of the time, officials hire security guards to 'control petitioners' for them and then wash their hands of the matter."
"Once officials find detention is a difficult thing to do, they could use money to pay off petitioners. But either way, the real problems behind the complaints would not be solved, even if some petitioners may be silenced," Han Yusheng, a law professor with the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times, during a telephone interview.
Zhao Meifu, a petitioner from Gansu Province, told the Global Times that she has been detained four times for 40 days each time by Gansu's liaison office in Beijing.
"They put me and other petitioners at the basement of the office," said Zhao, adding that officers would wait for her at places where petitioners gather.
In Beijing, there are roughly 73 locations set up by the liaison offices of provinces and cities to hold petitioners, Oriental Outlook, a news weekly under Xinhua, reported.
For Zhao, if this case is properly dealt with, she would be more confident in suing the local officers who illegally detained her.
The head of the infamous Anyuanding Security Technology Service, a company that helps local governments deal with petitioners, was arrested in 2010 but the sentence was still unclear.
The People's Procuratorate of Beijing's Daxing district has dealt with at least six cases of illegal deprivation of petitioners' freedom since 2010, caixin.com reported on Sunday.