With the abolition of custody and repatriation (C&R) system in 2003, it seems the Chinese petitioners no longer have to worry about being detained as illegal residents when they leave for a strange city to petition a higher governmental institution. However, according to blogger Xu Zhiyong, a young professor of law and strong advocate for human rights, those supplicants are actually still being intercepted by the local officials from the way to the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, the Supreme People’s Court or other departments, and forcedly taken to some makeshift house of detention, being lock up without any legal process. As the places which confined the petitioners are always hidden among the ordinary buildings, people call them “Black Jails”.
In cooperation with citizen reporter Zhou Shuguang (Zola) and other two journalists Chen Er (Doubleaf) and Guo Jiannong, Xu Zhiyong, who firstly blogged Beijing’s black jails in the end of September, went to visit one of the unlawful prisons again on Monday, attacked by a group of thugs who were allegedly hired by the authorities.
Xu introduced the background of the operation in his blog:
I arranged with Zhou Shuguang and his two journalist friends to meet at the Youth Hotel. Three of us reached the door of black jail at 4:15 pm, leaving Zhou to shoot videos from a safe distance. Ma Xirong came to the window and asked to let her out, but the guard rejected her request while calling the Beijing Office of Henan Province. So she talked with us through the window, saying that she was questioned by the police while walking in Wangfujing Street. After finding her petition materials, the police arrested her and then locked her up in this place. When more and more petitioners assembled at the window, Ma Xirong was forced into the inner room by the guard and I could still hear she shouted, “I am a citizen. Who are you to stop me here?”
Doubleaf, a well-known blogger in China, from his unique angle promptly blogged the situation at that time :
The black jail is actually a hostel named “Cozy Youth Hotel”, west to the Temple of Heaven, in a small alley on Taiping Street near Taoranting Park, where very few people pass by. The path fully covered by fallen leaves is so narrow that only one car can fit in. Looked from the outside, this dilapidated building has nothing to relate to the black jails, although more than 20 petitioners, all from Henan, are illegally imprisoned here. In fact, the hostel is rented by the Office for Letters and Calls of Henan Province, used especially to lock up the petitioners.
At the door of black jail, Guo Jianlong and Xu Zhiyong were responsible for communicating to the people inside while I was watching the outside circumstances. After a lengthy dispute, the person we wanted to meet finally came out, briefly talking with us behind a closed security door. The one we tried to save was a woman in her fifties, who was allegedly detained before getting a chance to petition.
Subsequently, an interception officer who pretended as a petitioner’s relative came to knock at the black jail’s door, but the guard inside didn’t let him in immediately because of our visit. We talked with him for a while, learning some information.
The man didn’t get in until 20 minutes later. Then we again had a short conversation with the person we wanted. I heard she was incessantly saying, “We are just talking”, which was assumed that someone inside was attempting to stop our dialog.
In the meantime, 3 or 4 strappers stared at us from the corner and the other side of the alley. Xu Zhiyong indicated they were the black jail’s thugs, one of which even passed us with a kid in his arms. According to Zola, that man had planned “holding the kid to kick them”. After that, we had a word with another female petitioner who professed to come here of “her own volition” through the window.
About one hour later, nearly 5:20 pm, a mini-bus with the license of “京 MG8490” drove into the alley, from which got off 3 or 4 big men. They abusively seized Guo Jianlong, asking why he was there. “To receive someone,” Guo replied. “Whom?! Whom?!” one of them impatiently shouted. Without surplus words, the big men started hitting us. We hastened to ask Zola staying tens of meters out run away. At the time, the thugs who watched us from the beginning came up one by one, about 6 or 7 in all. A fat guy of Beijing accent beat Xu Zhiyong the most brutally, while swearing, “You are the f*** lawyer, right?!” Maybe because it’s mainly Guo Jianlong and Xu Zhiyong that negotiated with them just now and I almost kept silent, they didn’t punch me. Even though, I was still a little scared. Without running off or fighting back, I acted as a shameful onlooker. I even got no courage to yell “stoppage”.
“Go to the police station. It’s very close,” those thugs provocatively said, while hitting and cursing. About 5 minutes later, they stopped, but we didn’t leave. “He is one of them,” one of the thugs pointed at me, though no one lifted hands against my face.
During the entire process, Xu Zhiyong and Guo Jianlong didn’t strike back in any way.
Around 17:45, the woman we expected finally came out of the jail, accompanied with the officer from the Office for Letters and Calls of her hometown. So Xu Yongzhi, Guo Jianlong and I quickly moved out of the alley. As we arrived at the corner, another brutal thug rushed into the way, threatening to bump Xu to death by car. Since Xu continued standing on the way, I hurried to draw him aside, saying, “The person has been saved. Let’s get out of here.” Xu Zhiyong then said to the thugs: “We will be back. “
At noon of October 13，I published information in twitter, seeking for people who wanted to go to the black jail together. Doubleaf was on vacation and Guo Jianlong working at the Economy Report of 21 Century was also free, so we decided to meet before Youth Hotel at 4:00 pm. The plan was I watched and recorded at the intersection while the other three men went to the door to ask for the petitioner.
The following map shows our positions that I watch A where the other three men negotiate with the guards to ask for the petitioner from B where the gate of Beijing No. 62 High School is located.
下面是10月5号去黑监狱的照片，从这次打人来看，后面的京M G8790 是黑监狱的车.
Besides the four men’s admirable courage and omni-directional blogging afterwards, another stunning knockout of the black jail operation is Doubleaf and Zola’s live report on the event by Twitter, which, as Isaac Mao commented, “has showed the social media’s potential routes of transmission and power.”