“Black Jails:” China’s Growing Network of Illegal and Secret Detention Facilities

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“Black Jails:” China’s Growing Network of Illegal and Secret Detention Facilities

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, October 19, 2008) – A year after CHRD released the report “Black Jails” in the Host City of the “Open Olympics” in October 2007, Chinese authorities continue to detain individuals in these illegal and secret detention facilities in Beijing and around the country. The black jails documented in CHRD’s 2007 report are still in operation while others have sprung up in the capital and elsewhere in the country.

These detention facilities operate completely outside China’s judicial system–they have no legal basis in Chinese law. The interception and detention of petitioners, in most cases involving beating and other forms of mistreatment, are carried out not by law enforcement officers, but by government officials. However, these operations take place under the eyes of the police, and often with their active cooperation. Detainees could be held incommunicado for months without charge, trial or access to legal counsel.

Evidence suggests that this shadowy system of interception of petitioners and their detention in black jails have become increasingly extensive and systematic. The establishment of centralized black jails for petitioners from all over the country, such as Ma Jia Lou and Jiu Jing Zhuang in Beijing would not be possible without some form of approval and possibly assistance from the Beijing municipal government. The fact that petitioners, once intercepted and detained in these centralized black jails, are then taken away by interceptors from their local jurisdiction and forcibly returned to their home towns or villages, also point to a well-organized, coordinated and swift system to catch and punish petitioners and activists.

Besides these centralized black jails, smaller black jails are operated by local officials from provincial and municipal governments. In Beijing, these officials have used their liaison offices or rented spaces as temporary detention and interrogation centers for petitioners from their local areas. Petitioners detained in these black jails are forcibly escorted by interceptors back to their home provinces where they could be further detained in local black jails.

Black Jails in Beijing

Ma Jia Lou, Beijing

Ma Jia Lou, established in 2004 and located at Fengtai District within the South Fourth Ring Road in Beijing, is a centralized black jail where petitioners intercepted by Beijing police are sent. When petitioners first arrived in Ma Jia Lou, they are registered and detained before officials there notify interceptors from their local areas, who then take the petitioners away and forcibly escort them back to their home provinces. Ma Jia Lou can incarcerate up to several thousands of petitioners at a time and is the black jail with the highest capacity documented by CHRD. The period of detention varies widely–ranging from a few of days to a couple of months. At Ma Jia Lou, beatings of petitioners by interceptors are common occurrences. Petitioners are also fed poorly—they are given two meals of steamed buns and preserved vegetables every day.

Jiu Jing Zhuang, Beijing

In July 2008, when Ma Jia Lou could no longer accommodate an increasing number of intercepted petitioners, another black jail, Jiu Jing Zhuang was setup at an abandoned factory in Dahongmen, Fengtai District in Beijing to incarcerate individuals who are new to petitioning in the capital. The situation in Jiu Jing Zhuang is very similar to those in Ma Jia Lou—petitioners are poorly fed and routinely beaten by interceptors.

Hufang Road Youth Hostel, Beijing

This black jail, one of the latest documented by CHRD, is managed by the Beijing Liaison Office of Henan Province. On October 14, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a professor at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, visited the black jail after he received a phone call for assistance from a detained petitioner. The petitioner, Ma Xirong (马喜荣), was detained there with at least twenty others. Xu was unable to enter the jail and he was beaten by the guards. During the beating, one of the assailants shouted at Xu, “we are the government, what can we be afraid of? Do you want to call 110 [police hotline for emergency]? You can call now!”

The following Beijing black jails documented in our 2007 report have continued to operate with impunity:

  • A converted two-storey building behind the Jingyuan Inn in Wulidian, Fengtai District, Beijing managed by the Beijing Liaison Office of the Nanyang City government in Henan Province;
  • The basement of an Inner Mongolian inn located behind the Beijing Art Museum in Dongcheng District managed by the Beijing liaison office of Jixi City, Heilongjiang Province;
  • A two-storey building at the northwestern corner of Taoran Ting Park, in the back wing of the Green Tree Inn, about five hundred meters south of the Supreme Court. This is another “centralized” black jails incarcerating petitioners from all over the country;
  • In the basement of the Beijing liaison office of Pingdingshan City, Henan Province, at the southwestern corner of Taoran Ting Park to jail petitioners from Pingdingshan;
  • The Tianmei Inn at 131 Canlan Lane, which is across the street from the Nanheng Street stop of the No. 381 bus that leaves Beijing South Train Station. The place is for the detention of petitioners from Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province.

Black jails elsewhere in the country

It is impossible to list them all as CHRD has received numerous reports of black jails in the past year. Below are just some of the examples:

  • Minhang Assistance Station, No. 1774 Humin Road, Minhang District, Shanghai: Minhang Assistance Station is a “centralized” black jail that detains intercepted petitioners from all over China in Shanghai. The jail is made up of small rooms, each fitted with a small window and an iron door and guarded by two guards. Between August 13 and 27, Shanghai petitioner Shen Peilan (沈佩兰) was held there together with about thirty others. According to Shen, the detainees are barred from speaking with each other.
  • Yancao Station, Hongtai Yuansigou Village, Yunxi County, Hubei Province: This black jail holds many Hubei petitioners including the petitioner-turned-activist Zheng Dajing (郑大靖), who has been detained since September 2007 after he was kidnapped by Hubei interceptors in Beijing. Zheng have been subjected to repeated beatings and mistreatment. Zheng has also been denied access to medical treatment.
  • At an isolated building near Wangcheng Village, Xiaoduchuan Street Office, Enshi City, Hubei Province: Petitioner and activist Wang Guilan (王桂兰) was detained in this black jail between April 17 and July 29. Wang was sent there after she was intercepted by Beijing police and forcibly escorted back to her hometown, Enshi City, by Hubei interceptors.
  • The third floor of Jingtian Restaurant on Yuanda Road, Furong District, Changsha City, Hunan Province: The jail is fitted with a steel door and windows with steel bars and guarded around the clock by a dozen security guards and officials from the local court and the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Petitioners held there are subjected to mistreatment and beatings. On August 4, Li Maofang (李毛芳), a petitioner against forcible demolition from Chaoyanger Village in Furong District, was intercepted by officers from the Beijing Liaison Office of Changsha City while petitioning in Beijing. Li was forcibly sent back to Changsha, where she was first interrogated at Changyanger Village Police Station and then detained at this black jail on Yuanda Road. Li was frequently punished. For example, she was dragged on the floor for attempting to go out of her room for a walk.
  • An isolated villa in the hills of Qipanshan about thirty kilometers from Shenyang City, Liaoning: This black jail has over ten rooms and each detains about eight individuals. Petitioners are held incommunicado, poorly fed and barred from venturing outside of their rooms. Petitioners are released if they sign an agreement promising that they will cease petitioning. Between August 6 and 9, Li Shufen (李树芬), a petitioner from Tiexi District in Shenyang, was detained there after she was kidnapped from her home in Beijing.


CHRD calls on the Chinese government to respect the rights to freedom of expression and from arbitrary detention and torture. These rights are guaranteed in Articles 7, 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has signed (but not yet ratified) as well as the UN Convention against Torture, which China ratified in 1988. These rights are also enshrined in Articles 35, 37 and 41 of the Chinese Constitution.

CHRD reiterates its call on China’s law enforcement and judicial authorities and the national legislative body to intervene and shut down all illegal and extrajudicial detention facilities including the black jails, releasing all detainees immediately and unconditionally.

CHRD also urges the relevant government agencies to investigate officials responsible for illegal acts and human rights abuses related to the operation of illegal jails and to hold them legally responsible. Authorities should take such actions as required by Chinese law and regulations, e.g., Article 44 and 45 of the Regulations on Letters and Visits, Article 238 of Criminal Law and Article 37 of the PRC Constitution.

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