Activist Imprisoned for Exposing China’s ‘Black Jails’

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – A Chinese court has sentenced an activist to eighteen months in a labor camp after he gave journalists information that led them to a “black jail” which is an unofficial detention facility kept by the Chinese government.

A Chinese activist has been sentenced to a labor camp following detention in one of China's black jails (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

Zhao Zhenjia was recently sentenced after being detained by Beijing police on January 22.

Chinese authorities claim that Zhao was indicted for fraud based on alleged dealings with rural machinery workers.

According to Chinese activists, those who try to make against the local government are often detained in black jails where they are beaten and harassed by government authorities.

A former black jail detainee expressed their experience when they stated, “[the guards] entered without a word, grabbed me…kneed me in the chest and pounded my lower belly with their fists until I passed out. After it was over I was in pain, but they didn’t leave a mark on my body.”

Another former detainee stated that, “[t]here was no medical treatment [in the black jail]. I’m not very healthy and combined with the disgusting conditions inside [the facility], I was sick every day, but they wouldn’t give me medical treatment and wouldn’t let me go to see a doctor. [A guard] said, ‘You don’t want to die here because your life [to us] isn’t worth one cent. [If] I want you dead, you can die [here] as easily as an ant.’”

A 2009 Human Rights Watch report alleged that Chinese officials regularly take citizens and keep them in unlawful detention facilities maintained in state-owned hotels, nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals.

According to the report local officials create black jails to allow activists to be detained and punished in a way that will not cause these officials to be reprimanded under rules that impose penalties when a large portion of prisoners flow from their areas.

Those hired to guard the prison often subject prisoners to physical violence, theft, extortion, threats and deprivation of food, sleep and medical care.

Minors have not been spared black jail detention in China. Human Rights Watch interviewed a fifteen year old girl who reported that after being abducted and taken to the jail, she was detained for two months and subjected to severe beatings.

Black jails appeared following the government’s abolishment of laws allowing arbitrary detention of non-residents and according to Human Rights Watch the operators of black jails receive payment from the local governments for each person kept in the black jail.

Despite the recent change of government, few expect to see changes in the treatment of activists due to  the need of the new government to assert power and stability over the nation.

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Labor Camp for Petitioning Activist –  29 February 2012

Reuters – China “Black Jails” Prompt Fears of Wider Security Crackdown – 10 November 2011

Human Rights Watch – China: Secret “Black Jails” hide Severe Rights Abuses – 12 November 2009

Author: Impunity Watch Archive

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