Those convicted were hired by authorities from Changge city in central Henan province to stop petitioners airing their grievances in Beijing, the People’s Daily said on its website, citing a Beijing newspaper.
Petitioning officials has deep roots in China, where courts are seen as beyond the reach of ordinary people, who often try to take local disputes ranging from land grabs to corruption to higher levels in the country’s capital Beijing.
Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court sentenced one defendant to a year and a half in prison on Nov. 28 and gave months-long sentences to nine others, according to state media reports. The plaintiffs were not identified and calls to the court rang unanswered.
The report could not immediately be confirmed and it wasn’t clear when the sentences were handed down. The official China Daily newspaper briefly ran a story on its website saying the sentences had not yet been handed down, but later removed the report.
The official Guangmingwang website said the men had detained a number of people from central Henan province who had traveled to the capital hoping to have their complaints settled by the central government. Such petitioners are frequently intercepted by local government agents and detained illegally in shabby hostels commonly known as “black jails.”
The government has recently begun acknowledging the existence of black jails as part of modest attempts to stamp out the most glaring abuses of power, but has met with only middling success. A central government order to close representative offices maintained in Beijing by local governments for the purpose of blocking complaints and lobbying for projects and funding has been mostly ignored.
According to the Global Times, the report circulated about the sentencing was fake:
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.
Huang admitted the existence of the case but said a sentence has not yet been passed.
Moreover, the court is asking for an apology from the Beijing Youth Daily, AFP adds:
A Chinese court has asked for an apology from a newspaper which said it jailed 10 “interceptors” who illegally held petitioners attempting to lodge complaints with the government, state media reported on Sunday.
But a court spokeswoman branded the report, which was carried by most major Chinese news websites and widely spread on Chinese social networking websites, as “fake news”, another state-run newspaper, the China Daily, reported.
The spokeswoman, who was not named, “confirmed a case involving city officials from Henan had been heard”, but “denied judges had handed down any verdict”, the paper said.
Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court, which reportedly handed down the verdict, is “in negotiations with Beijing Youth Daily over the printing of an apology and explanation”, the paper said.
See also Inside China’s ‘Black Jails,’ via CDT.