It took a Caijing magazine investigative piece on a Beijing “black jail,” aka an illegal detention center to keep petitioners from reaching the seat of power in Beijing, to get the government to finally intervene. But thankfully they did, arresting two of those in charge.
The two were in charge of a firm called Anyuanding Security Technology, which assists local officials trying to prevent citizens from airing their complaints to the central Beijing government.
Because it reflects poorly and can possibly cost them their careers, blocking petitioners from lodging their complaints in Beijing is high priority for local officials. For years, it’s been thriving business for detention centers like Anyuanding. Set up in 2004, records show the company charged local governments up to RMB 300 per person per day for apprehending and detaining petitioners and earned upwards of RMB 21 million in 2008.
At its height, Anyuanding employed 3000 interceptors who went about kidnapping petitioners, confiscating their cellphones and identity cards and locking them up in rundown guesthouses. Petitioners were detained in miserable conditions until officials from their hometown come to get them, and in the meantime were subjected to all sorts of abuse – including fatal beatings and rape.
Anyuanding’s website went down on Sunday, but the company has denied “allocating petitioners” and claims it’s still in operation.
Prior to this police investigation, authorities have always denied the existence of the detention centers, and the fact that they’ve acknowledged them is good news. But don’t jump to the conclusion that the government is now committed to cleaning out the black jail system just yet.
After Caijing published its investigation of the illegal security firm, police officers began harassing its editors to reveal its sources, arguing that the article threatened “stability and unity.” It was only after Caijing publicized another article reporting that incident that Beijing’s new police chief personally apologized to the deputy editor, assuring him that no one on the staff would be punished, eventually calling for the investigation.
But even with Anyuanding’s shut down, it is only one company in a long, messy web of officials protecting themselves from “disharmony.” Really curing the country of its black jails will take nothing short of a major petition system overhaul.