Group Accuses China of Abuses in Secret Jails

Human Rights Watch has issued a new report about the “black jails” used to detain petitioners who travel to Beijing seeking justice. From the New York Times:

The report was based on interviews with 38 former detainees who had gone to Beijing to complain after suffering what they described as corruption or other abuses of power at lower levels of government. It said that guards at the so-called black jails beat, sexually abused, intimidated and robbed men, women and teenagers.

Provincial and municipal officials in China are subject to a national civil service evaluation system in which they are penalized based on the number of complaints received in Beijing about their management. So local and provincial officials have a strong incentive to prevent petitioners from reaching the central government.

Sophie Richardson, the advocacy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, said that abuses were widespread in China’s prison system, which operates under some judicial supervision, but that they were worse in unofficial jails.

“We’re talking about a country with torture in formal detention centers, and the black jails are 10 floors down” in terms of the treatment of detainees, she said.

Meanwhile, Time Magazine reports that China plans reforms in its prison system:

China will begin to separate suspects arrested for minor offenses from violent criminals as part of a series of proposed reforms to its detention system announced this week. The system has been under fire for months, following a series of at least 15 suspicious deaths in China’s extensive system of prisons and jails this year.

Lawyers and human-rights advocates welcomed the proposed changes, announced Nov. 9, which also state that detainees must be informed of their rights, can’t be forced to do labor and can’t be forced to pay for their detention costs. If the proposals are instituted, police or judicial officials would have to inform suspects’ families within 12 hours of their detention.

Read more about black jails, via CDT.

November 12, 2009 3:12 PM
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