In rare move, China locks up 10 for 'black jail' holdings

Petitioners, who try to help Chinese citizens get their legal cases heard in court, are often forced into unlawful secret detention facilities where they are held in torturous conditions.

BEIJING — A court in Beijing has sentenced 10 people to up to two years in jail for illegally detaining petitioners from another city, state media reported Tuesday, in a rare case of the judiciary taking on the shadowy men who operate on the margins of the law.

Petitioning officials has deep roots in China, where courts are seen as beyond the reach of ordinary people. Petitioners often try to take local disputes ranging from land grabs to corruption to higher levels in the capital Beijing.

But studies show only a few are ever able to resolve their cases through petitioning. In many cases, petitioners are rounded up in Beijing by men hired by provincial authorities to prevent the central government from learning of problems in outlying regions.

The 10, all from Yuzhou in the poor and populous central province of Henan, falsely imprisoned 11 petitioners also from Henan in two residences just outside Beijing for between two and six days last year, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"The court ruled that Wang Gaowei and the other nine respondents had infringed the personal rights of the 11 petitioners, which constituted the crime of false imprisonment," it said, citing the court ruling.

Three of the 10 are minors and received suspended jail sentences, Xinhua added.

Those sentenced will also have to pay each petitioner up to $390 in compensation, it said.

Despite international criticism, petitioners are often forced home or held in "black jails," unlawful secret detention facilities where detainees can be subjected to beatings, sleep and food deprivation and psychological abuse.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard

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