Prison terms for 10 'black jail' criminals

Prison terms for 10 'black jail' criminals

Ten people who illegally detained citizens trying to take their local grievances to the central government were sentenced in Beijing yesterday.

Three were minors and received suspended jail sentences of six to 10 months while the adults were sent to jail for periods ranging from six months to two years when they appeared at Chaoyang District People's Court.

Illegal detention of petitioners is believed to be common, with petitioners frequently intercepted by local government agents and detained in shabby hostels known as "black jails."

Eleven petitioners from the central Henan Province traveled to the capital in April last year hoping to air their grievances, the court heard.

Four of the petitioners intercepted by the defendants were driven to a rented house where they spent one night before being sent back to Henan. But they returned to the capital to report the incident to the police.

When officers arrested Wang Gaowei and nine accomplices, aged from 17 to 32, on May 2, they also released the other petitioners who had been forcibly detained for up to six days.

As well as the jail sentences, the 10 were also ordered to pay each petitioner between 1,300 yuan (US$208) and 2,400 yuan in compensation.

"I was reluctant to get in the car, but they forcibly threw me into it," said Jin Hongjuan, a woman who wanted to complain about compensation paid in Henan for forced demolitions.

"My blouse was pulled off during the process. I was extremely aggrieved," Jin said.

Citizens who are not satisfied with local government responses to their complaints sometimes choose to take their protests to higher authorities in Beijing.

Their gripes are often about compensation for forced demolitions and relocations, which are usually conducted by local governments to make way for new construction projects.

Local governments that feel vulnerable to such protests sometimes take matters into their own hands, trying by all means to stop the petitioners.

"A for-hire notice was posted in our township for security guards in Beijing, offering free board and lodging. My son was hired in early 2012," said the father of Wang Shilei, one of the 10 sentenced yesterday. Wang and his fellow defendants are all natives of Henan's Yuzhou City.

The sentence in this case indicates that local governments should make greater efforts to solve problems using lawful methods, said Wang Xixin, a professor of administrative law at the Law School of Peking University.

The sentence will help protect petitioners' rights, said Shen Kui, another Peking University law professor, adding that petitioners' lawful rights, especially those related to personal freedom, should be protected.

Local governments should strive to make it easier for petitioners to make their voices heard and refrain from illegally detaining them, Shen said.