By Tom Bannister
News outlets have been reporting that ten people have been jailed for illegally detaining petitioners on behalf of local government authorities. These ten men were employed by the municipal government of Changge (a city in Henan province near Beijing) to prevent people from petitioning the central government.This semi-legal practise is common across China and has received growing criticism in recent years. Men, known as ‘interceptors’ are employed by the government to deflect dissent, sometimes imprisoning petitioning citizens in notorious ‘black jails’ that operate outside of the legal system. Recently there have been a growing number of cases involving abuse within these jails but the prosecution of ‘interceptors’ is rare. The Changge men’s sentencing would represent a landmark case and another step towards a greater reliance on ‘rule of law’.
Update #1: Chinese state media, who first broadcast the verdicts, are now retracting their reports and describing the news as ‘fake’. The Global Times quoted a court official as saying:
“The court did not pass sentence on a case like that on that day and we are investigating to what extent the story was untrue.”
The original story was reported by many state media outlets and became one of the hottest Weibo topics. tealeafnation reported how one post received over 280,000 comments, and gave the response of blogger Zhou Pidong (@周丕东):
“The news hadn’t even been out for 12 hours before it was proven to be a rumor. But in that 12 hours, many people who love this country put out many calls full of hope and confidence in this country, feeling that this was a beacon in the darkness, welcoming the arrival of rule of law. However, 12 hours later, this passion, these principles, this joy, was discovered to be only a dream.”