Religious and Political Prisoners in China’s “Black Jails” That “Don’t Exist”

Written by Wes Walker on March 13, 2014

China’s “black jails” are the unofficial detention centers where authorities are able to extra-judicially hold individuals for almost indefinite lengths of time.  Three members of a Henan-province church were being secretly held there until complaints to human rights organization ChinaAid led to its quick closure.  The three detainees were moved to another undisclosed location in the night.

These three were among two dozen arrested from a government-approved church last November, which is the harshest crackdown against sanctioned churches in two decades. (full story)

This is not the first complaint made against China’s extra-legal prison system.  Human Rights Watch has interviewed a number of people claiming to have been detained illegally. (see related video news clip and article here)

Naturally, China denies having any such jails.

In an April 2009 Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) press conference, a MOFA official responded to an Al Jazeera correspondent’s query about black jails by stating categorically that, “Things like this do not exist in China.” In June 2009, the Chinese government asserted in the Outcome Report of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of China’s human rights record that, “There are no black jails in the country.”

Former detainees allege horrible conditions: routine beatings, detainment without being criminally charged, threats, sleep deprivation, physical abuse, and denial of adequate food or medical care.

It isn’t just religious or political enemies that suffer these abuses, either.  The Telegraph reports that the Chinese Communist Party arrests, tortures, and sometimes even kills its own members if they fall out of favor with their superiors.  In the 5 months leading up to that article, it claims 2300 officials had been “disciplined.”

Consider the following quote:

Ms Lin said she supported the system’s extralegal status. “Since the officials are Party members, they should be punished by the Party. It also simplifies matters. When officials are sent to trial afterwards, the evidence has already been collected.”

But critics say the opacity of the system allows it to be used as a tool of political revenge. “The more powerful officials can punish less powerful ones,” said Mr Shen.

“The problem is that the Party places itself above the law in China,” said Nicholas Bequelin at Human Rights Watch.

“The fiction presented by the Party is that shuanggui is not coercive, that the person under investigation has submitted him or herself voluntarily. But as we know it is very often coercive and therefore amounts to arbitrary detention.”

Some lessons can be learned from this.

1) STRICT limits and controls must be placed (AND ENFORCED!) on any government agency able to wield powers over private persons, and the agencies must never — NEVER — act for partisan purposes.  (and yes, that specifically includes domestic American agencies whose partisan abuses have been newsworthy lately)

2) Western leaders, or would-be leaders (like Obama, or Trudeau must be careful in praising the “efficiency” of foreign systems, lest they praise the abuses that make that system possible.

3) Enjoy, appreciate, and make use of what freedoms you presently enjoy; do not take them for granted.

4) Remember those who do not enjoy those same freedoms — and when possible, help them, advocate for them, and pray for them.