China: Petitioner burns down his black prison

One of the earliest in China's first wave of bloggers to take up live reporting of local news, Zhang Shihe (aka ‘Tiger Temple’), is also one of the last of that group still active. Blogging on at 24 hours online, his latest post revisits the issue of China's black prisons, often apartments or shabby motels where petitioners are held illegally or processed for domestic rendition.

Zhang's February 13 post, ‘In an act of righteous resistance against violence, burning down a black prison to awaken people to rule without law’, tells a bit of the remarkable and ongoing story of Hubei petitioner Yan Sen through tweets and text messages:


On February 10 this month, petitioner Yan Sen and company were taken from their black prison at #201 in building 5 of Contentment Garden in Beijing's Fengtai district, and repatriated back to Zhongxia city in Hubei province (it is suspected that this was the result of a cash-for-hostage transaction between the black prison and the pair's intercepters). Following Yan Sen and partner's repatriation, they were held for two days in their original local black prison. At 3:50 am on the third day, three hours before this post was published, Yan Sen sent a text message here to Beijing: “Successfully burnt down.” Previously, Yan Sen had spoken of burning down any black prisons in which he was held, resistance in the name of injustice to open up people's eyes and push China closer toward rule of law. The current whereabouts of Yan Sen and partner are unknown, and his mobile phone is “power off”…


Door #201 of Contentment Garden building 5 on Ximachang Rd. in Beijing's Fengtai district has long been suspected by residents there of being a black prison. Due, however, to the excess secrecy of all who come in or out, clues have always been hard to come by, thus the reason it was never exposed. Petitioners from the Beijing South Railway Station had originally planned to gather on February 10 for a day of black prison jailbreaking, but upon hearing that Hubei petitioner Yan Sen and partner had just that day been “sold” back to their local Hubei captors, and with the locations of seven other petitioners unknown, the black prison-busting squad temporarily postponed the action.


Upon his repatriation back to Zhongxiang City in Hubei, Yan Sen was put back in a black prison, but he was able to send a few text messages describing the Beijing Contentment Garden black prison […see below…]. It's still not clear whether or not Yan Sen was “sold” back, but based on the latest details, it seems that black prisons are now acting as ‘middle men’, interim agents for those who have been intercepted for the duration of their detention. Costs incurred for food, accommodation and guard services must be settled at the time at which petitioners are handed over. Petitioners say that this “petitioner trade” is now quite common.


February 11: They confiscated my phone. I had another one stashed away. Please don't contact me or send text messages. I'll get in touch after they release me. Yan Sen


February 11: The black prison had three rooms and one living room. You go in through the door and you're in the living room. The living room has three beds and two old long sofas where people sleep at night. A husband and wife couple from Heilongjiang and one middle-aged disabled guy in a wheelchair from Guizhou province sleep in the living room. Further inside one room has three bunk-beds, the top is for luggage and the bottom is for sleeping. Across from that is black prison boss Liu's office, and the middle room is for women: one from Heilongjiang and one from Hebei province. The day before yesterday the two of them were each sold back to their own local authorities.


Tomorrow morning at 6 am if I'm still here I'll have been in for more than 24 hours and I'm going to burn this black house down. Please wait until after 7 tomorrow morning to tell our petitioner friends they can text me. Yan Sen


Between 9 pm and midnight on February 12, we sent Yan Sen messages nonstop telling him to take it easy, worried he might create a disaster and get himself hurt, not to mention give the police a reason to arrest him. If he took things too far, things could get much worse…but we didn't seem to be getting anywhere.


At 3:50 am, we received a message here in Beijing: “Successfully burnt down.” A tragic ending!


When I tried to get in touch with him, his mobile phone was off. As of now, we don't know what happened with Yan Sen and company.

Zhang has since posted a few updates to the story on Twitter:


Feb 13th, 5:38 pm:
After Hubei petitioner burnt down a black prison this morning, nobody has been able to reach him on his mobile. According to people at the scene, there were two people outside the black prison at the time. Thus the only calculable loss has been this blog which Sina has censored due to a post regarding the situation. I don't know who made that decision, but I'm already trying to get in touch with Sina.


Feb 15, 16:24:
Update on the burning down of the black jail: Yan Sen is safe but has been locked up again, his captors won't report the fire to the police because they're afraid of them finding out about the black prison. Staying tuned.


Feb 15, 19:30:
After the black prison was burnt down, the number of people watching over him was increased to four. Yan Sen has sent in a message: They're scrambling now to repair the prison after it was torched to destroy any evidence of its existence. Yan Sen said he hopes journalists will get in touch with him. He's now completely cut off from the world, his freedom lost. I'm still waiting to hear back if whether or not I can publish his phone number.


Feb 15, 20:47:
I've been been trying Yan Sen's mobile for over an hour, it keeps saying the number cannot be reached.


Feb 16, 14:15:
The prison people threatened Yan Sen this morning saying he has to compensate them for the damages and that he better watch out for his wife and kid. Then this afternoon they did a total 180 and suddenly released Yan Sen. Media, please get in touch with me, this is at Yan Sen's request…..


Feb 16, 14:25:
When he lit the prison on fire, Yan Sen was still locked inside. We were worried he might “self-immolate,” because Yan Sen's just hardcore like that. Later the fire took and began to grow and the two guards frantically bust the door open. Yan Sen stood outside with them and watched it burn. The windows blew out and the flames shot up high. Yan Sen sent us the message: Success! (Meaning he wanted the motherland to find out)


Feb 16, 18:56:
Since Yan Sen completely liberated himself, now the prison don't want him to leave and a leader from the city wants to meet with him tomorrow. After Yan Sen lit the prison on fire but before he rushed out, he left a message on the wall: ‘Let black prisons burn! Yours, Yan Sen’. Currently the prison operators have been working night and day to restore the prison, afraid that now with Yan Sen gone, word of it will get out. Please everyone stay tuned. We won!


Feb 17, 10:04:
Yan Sen from Jingmen, Hubei, is now officially free. The leader the prison people said was coming today turned out only to be Yan Sen's younger brother and sister. As they left with their older brother they were threatended not to “go flapping your mouth around”. Yan Sen, however, says this arrow's already been shot there's no getting it back now! It's do-or-die for me, until all black prisons have been smashed down.” Yan Sen at this point wants to wish all netizens and twitterfolk watching out for him a happy Lantern Festival, and sends his thanks to civil society!

湖北省高法通知阎森本月22号前往立案庭。但阎森知道时逢此时不过又是一次维稳举措而已,去了也会被通知一个月以后如何,然后天下太平,升官发财。阎森公布了电话,接受关心他的网友和媒体 13277663168 建议短信交流避免资讯堵塞。

Feb 17, 10:09:
The Hubei provincial court has sent Yan Sen a summons requiring him to go down before the 22nd. But Yan Sen knows this is just another tactic the Stability Office users. If he goes he'll just get another summons for a month from now, things will go back to normal while officials get richer and promoted. Yan Sen has publicized his phone number and will take calls from concerned netizens or media: 13277663168. Text messages are advised to avoid tying up the line.


Feb 17, 18:05:
Since Yan Sen broke out of his black prison, the operators have been reinforcing it. Part of that has been to cover the inside walls with ceramic tile. Yan Sen suspects that once this is done, prisoners will no longer be able to scribble reactionary slogans of resistance on the walls! This rightfully embodies the scientific concept of prison-building, and is also borne of experience.


Feb 18, 10:00:
A bandit's thoughts on Beijing black prisons, part one: Black prison boss Liu is from Hebei. With his bullet-shaped head and three burly hometown buddies standing guard, he specializes in dragging people from the government-run Jiujingzhuang Aid Center to his black prison where he hoards prisoners. For provincial governments everywhere lacking the ability or patience to keep sending petitioners back home, for between RMB 300-400 a day they can instead entrust him with keeping petitioners locked up. Yan Sen was ‘sold’ to Liu at the price of RMB 400/day.


Feb 18, 10:00:
A bandit's thoughts on Beijing black prisons, part two: A daily schedule is kept on the wall of the black prison, specifying times for exercise and lights out. Usually, “the goods” are not beaten. There's a computer in the black prison for the guards to keep from getting bored. The rooms are full of cigarettes and booze sent it by different provincial ‘interception’ offices who see it a done deal as long as the people are not release. As soon as black prisons are exposed online, they relocate and continue operations. People who try and call the police have their phones confiscated.


Feb 18, 10:00:
A bandit's thoughts on Beijing black prisons, part three: Yan Sen's impression of his captors after speaking with the other detainees: stupid, plainspoken, and terror-stricken, beating anyone they suspected of being a mole. One woman from Guangxi who tried to sneak in a call to the police was beaten when found out, her mobile phone taken away and smashed to pieces. The longest there had been kept for over twenty days, with the provincial ‘interception’ office making daily trips to the black prison to drop off the massive payments. Black prisons in Beijing are already an industry of their own.


  • […] Dalla Cina arrivano invece i racconti delle black prisons, stanze-ghetto dove vengono spesso rinchiusi illegalment o rapiti a tempo indeterminato quanti provano presentare formali petizioni di protesta alle autorità. Nei giorni scorsi, Yan Sen ha dato fuoco alla ‘prigione nera’ dove era rinchiuso come “atto di giusta resistenza contro la violenza” e per informare  su questa situazione di “legge senza legge” — con pronti rilanci nel mondo intero grazie a tweet e SMS. […]

  • […] Dalla Cina arrivano invece i racconti delle black prisons, stanze-ghetto dove vengono spesso rinchiusi illegalment o rapiti a tempo indeterminato quanti provano presentare formali petizioni di protesta alle autorità. Nei giorni scorsi, Yan Sen ha dato fuoco alla ’prigione nera’ dove era rinchiuso come "atto di giusta resistenza contro la violenza" e per informare  su questa situazione di "legge senza legge" — con pronti rilanci nel mondo intero grazie a tweet e SMS. […]

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