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Closing China’s Network of Secret Jails

Fighting widespread illegal detention

In September, Chinese state media reported that Beijing police had arrested the chairman and general manager of a private company accused of detaining people in “black jails”—secret, makeshift detention centers that Human Rights Watch helped to expose 

Each year thousands of people who want to petition Beijing with complaints about local governance are prevented from doing so by local officials who arrest and hold them in black jails. Once detained, petitioners are subjected to abuses including physical and sexual violence, food and sleep deprivation, denial of medical care, and intimidation. The central government, rather than crack down on these facilities, had simply denied that they exist.  

Our researchers interviewed dozens of former detainees. We documented the proliferation of plainclothes thugs tasked with abducting petitioners from the streets of Beijing and provincial capitals and imprisoning them incommunicado in black jails.  

Two weeks after we released our findings at a press conference in Hong Kong, Liaowang, a Chinese language publication aimed at Communist Party bureaucrats and policy-makers, published an article echoing our findings on black jails. A short time later, the Chinese government ordered the 582 Beijing-based liaison offices of local and provincial authorities, which had often been used as black jails, to issue schedules for their eventual closure.  

Most recently, Chinese state media announced that the Beijing public security bureau launched an investigation into Anyuanding Security Technology Service, a private company alleged by Caijing magazine, Southern Metropolis Daily, and the China Daily newspapers to staff and run black jail facilities in Beijing.  

This investigation means the Chinese government is finally addressing the urgent need to close the black jails we helped to expose. Human Rights Watch plans to re-release our report on black jails in Chinese in early 2011 and will continue to push for an end to arbitrary detention in secret jails.

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