Black jail industry

Source:Southern Weekly-Global Times Published: 2013-3-3 19:33:04


Villagers stand in a tent on December 6 in Yingshang, Anhui Province. They stayed there for days guarding a bus they seized from local authorities who allegedly beat 14 villagers in the vehicle which was used to take kidnapped petitioners from Beijing home. Photo: CFP
Villagers stand in a tent on December 6 in Yingshang, Anhui Province. They stayed there for days guarding a bus they seized from local authorities who allegedly beat 14 villagers in the vehicle which was used to take kidnapped petitioners from Beijing home. Photo: CFP

On February 5, a group of 10 people from Yuzhou, Henan Province, who illegally detained petitioners appealing for justice in Beijing, were sentenced to between six months and two years in jail by the Chaoyang district court.

The Xinhua News Agency described this as a significant improvement in China's quest to build a civil society ruled by law, as well as in protecting human rights.

But the interception and illegal detention of petitioners in what are commonly known as black jails, has become a deeply-rooted shadow industry, with governmental officials playing key inside roles.

Yuzhou is a typical case of this industry. It's a city where local officials make profits by cooperating with illegal detention centers, and sometimes even become stakeholders in black jail companies.

Though the February 5 case saw a few people in the business punished, the defendants' relatives, and even petitioners who were illegally detained, argue that these people were also victims, as the chief conspirators, the local officials, are still at large.

Working for the government

The recent Spring Festival holiday was the gloomiest ever for 70-year-old Yuzhou villager Wang Yuzhu. At a time when most Chinese return home for family reunions, his son, Wang Gaowei, was sent to jail by the Chaoyang district court on February 5, just five days before the start of Spring Festival.

According to the verdict handed down by the Chaoyang district court, Wang will have to serve a two-year prison term for operating an illegal detention center in Shuanghecun, Wangsiyingxiang village, Chaoyang district.

This black jail is believed to have been supported by officials from the Yuzhou government. When confronted about his son, Wang Yuzhu burst into tears. "I cannot talk about this. The power [of the local government] is almighty and ordinary people are just scapegoats," he lamented.

"I knew nothing about my son's activities until other people told me he was sent to jail," the father said, "All I knew is he worked for the government."

Before 42-year-old Wang Gaowei started working for the black jail, he worked as a miner for 20 years. His father described Gaowei's life as one of suffering and penury, leading to a divorce two years ago.

An opportunity came to Wang Gaowei at the end of 2011 when three officials from Yuzhou Bureau of Letters and Calls, the department which deals with petitioners, visited Wang's home.

Wang Yuzhu recalled the leading official, named Bai, said he would "offer your son a good job in Beijing."

Bai did not specify what the job was, nor did Wang Gaowei ever tell his father. The only thing Wang Yuzhu noticed was an improvement in his son's social standing afterward.

Wang was promised a 1,800 yuan ($289) monthly salary for the job. This was an attractive figure as statistics from the Henan government show the average monthly income for villagers in Yuzhou is just 850 yuan.

He even hired an official with a village committee of the Communist Party of China, Fu Chaoxin, who is still on the run, to persuade local young men to join him.

Eight others who did so were also on trial. Fu's neighbors said his success became a symbol of Wang's credibility in many parents' eyes and helped him hire others.

Wang Erfei is one of the eight convicted. Before he went to Beijing, he was told that he would be working as a security guard. Yet, 20 days later, he was arrested. His father described Wang Erfei as "limp and uneducated."

"I would never have let him go to Beijing if I had known about this job before he left," said the father.

Although Wang Erfei was not even paid, he was sentenced to one year in prison. Before that, he had complained about his situation. "This is not a good job, I have to push and escort people every day," he told his father on the phone. 

A brutal business

"Pushing" and "escorting" are light words to describe rough work.

Song Xuefang, a disabled petitioner from Yuzhou who was once illegally detained by Wang Gaowei, recalled her experience.

"It was about 11 pm on April 28, 2012 in the Jiujingzhuang petitioner center. I heard someone calling my name and when I raised my head, several young men approached me and dragged me out," said Song. She tried to struggle but was subdued. Then she saw Jin Hongjuan, another female petitioner from Yuzhou, being beaten severely as she fought back.

"Those men dragged her clothes over her head, leaving her only in her underwear. Then they began slapping her face, and punching and kicking her," said Song.

Song and other petitioners were then transferred to a bungalow between the East Fourth and Fifth Ring Roads. But the violence didn't stop. Song was wracked with migraines after she was detained and asked for medicine, but the guards rejected her pleas. "Then I started crying, so they beat me every time I cried," Song recalled. 

Petitioners were forced to wait in jail for liaison officials from their hometowns to arrive. During this time, Wang Gaowei and his team were also waiting for the money, which was supposed to be paid when liaison officials take the petitioners back.

These were no small sums, as Wang Huifen, one of the petitioners illegally detained with Song, recalled. "It was not until Wang's team called them several times that the officials came to get me. I saw they paid the money, and on my way back I was told they paid 30,000 yuan," Wang said.

Jia Qiuxia, one of the petitioners detained, witnessed the trade between liaison officials and the black jail owners. "The owner told me the price of detainment was 200 yuan per person per day here. And a quarter of this money would go to my hometown's letters and calls bureau as kickbacks," Jia said.

That liaison officials and local letters and calls bureaus are profiting through illegal detention centers has become an open secret now. According to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, there are two major modes of cooperation between letters and calls bureaus and black jails.

The first one, as Yu said, is that liaison officials give out petition funds provided by local governments to black jails and get a refund of around 20-25 percent. The second is that liaison officers become direct stakeholders in black jails and get shares from the profits.

There are many cases of local governments setting up petition interception funds. The government of Fangshan, a township of 40,000 residents in Yuzhou, set up such a special fund in 2010.

"Since 2010, about 100,000 yuan has been spent on this special petition fund every year in aiding, rewarding and solving difficulties in petition issues," the 2012 Yuzhou Yearbook recorded.

Still at large

Wang Gaowei and his men were sentenced to jail. But the victims are not satisfied with this result as they believe the chief conspirator has not been punished.

Song Xuefang said she appeared at Wang's trial last November, and "remembers clearly Wang admitted to the judge that a man named Bai Zhongxing hired him."

This matches Wang's father's words, who recalled his son was hired by a man surnamed Bai. Bai Zhongxing, the official from Yuzhou Bureau of Letters and Calls who hired Wang Gaowei, is a well-known figure to Yuzhou petitioners as many of them know of Bai's connections to the black jail.

Getting into the Jiujingzhuang Petitioner Center requires a permit, except for petitioners. This is the reason why petitioners insist that some people working at the black jail could not have entered the petitioner center without assistance from the local government.

According to petitioners, Bai came to Beijing to handle petitioners at the end of 2010, and started the black jail business in 2011. Within one year, his business expanded from Yuzhou to nearby cities, and sometimes even down to nearby Shandong Province.

Li Tao, media officer for the Yuzhou government, said he had not heard anything pointing to Bai as chief organizer of the black jail.

Zhu Zijian, secretary of the Party committee of Yuzhou Bureau of Letters and Calls admitted Bai Zhongxing "spent several months as our liaison officer in Beijing" but denied any knowledge of Wang Gaowei and his relationship with Bai.

Bai has not shown up for work in a long time. According to Zhu, Bai has been suffering from a severe eye disease and he said Bai could not accept interviews.

On February 18, in the reception hall of the Yuzhou bureau, several petitioners complained they were never received by senior officials as promised.

At the entrance of the hall, a notice warned that three petitioners who went on to complain in Beijing were sent to a re-education through labor camp for at least one year.

Southern Weekly - Global Times

Posted in: Society, In-Depth

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