‘Black jails’ stir ou­trage in China

A re­port on a se­cu­rity firm’s tac­tics doesn’t get the ex­pected re­sponse, at first.

Los Angeles Times - - The World - Megan K. Stack re­port­ing from Bei­jing megan.stack@latimes.com

‘Un­der these cir­cum­stances, the po­lice will face a lot of pres­sure if they don’t in­ves­ti­gate. That’s why they fi­nally had to do some­thing.’

— XU ZHIY­ONG, hu­man rights lawyer

The scan­dal has all the mak­ings of a clas­sic take-down in a cor­rupt city: Cru­sad­ing jour­nal­ists pub­lish al­le­ga­tions of a se­cu­rity firm abus­ing peo­ple on be­half of crooked of­fi­cials. Po­lice launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ar­rest the firm’s top of­fi­cers. Politi­cians hold their breath, hop­ing they don’t get named.

Ex­cept, this be­ing China, the of­fi­cials sus­pected of avail­ing them­selves of the paid thugs haven’t had much cause to squirm. When Bei­jing-based fi­nan­cial mag­a­zine Cai­jing ran a re­port this month de­scrib­ing Anyuand­ing Se­cu­rity Ser­vices as a de facto mer­ce­nary po­lice force that snatched law-abid­ing cit­i­zens off the streets and locked them up in se­cret “black jails,” it wasn’t the se­cu­rity firm that was im­me­di­ately raided by po­lice. It was the mag­a­zine.

The po­lice move, an at­tempt to get the mag­a­zine to re­veal sources, fol­lowed a prac­tice that’s long been hid­den and de­nied by au­thor­i­ties, ob­servers said.

For years, hu­man rights work­ers have said peo­ple who jour­ney to Bei­jing with com­plaints of in­jus­tice of­ten wind up in se­cret makeshift pris­ons. But the govern­ment has re­peat­edly and flatly de­nied the ex­is­tence of the black jails.

Then the head­line-grab­bing raid at the mag­a­zine caught peo­ple’s at­ten­tion; it got the In­ter­net buzzing. The orig­i­nal story was quickly scrubbed from Chi­nese web­sites, but it still hung in the air, de­mand­ing an an­swer.

It came this week, when state-run news me­dia re­ported that po­lice had launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the se­cu­rity firm. The man­ager and chair­man of Anyuand­ing had been ar­rested, the China Daily said.

What’s more, jour­nal­ists at the mag­a­zine told re­porters that the po­lice apol­o­gized for the raid.

“Un­der these cir­cum­stances, the po­lice will face a lot of pres­sure if they don’t in­ves­ti­gate,” said Xu Zhiy­ong, one of China’s most prom­i­nent hu­man rights lawyers. “That’s why they fi­nally had to do some­thing.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Cai­jing story, the se­cu­rity agents wore out­fits re­sem­bling po­lice uni­forms, snatched peo­ple off the streets and some­times phys­i­cally abused them in un­of­fi­cial pris­ons.

They were hired by re­gional and smaller-city lead­ers ea­ger to keep their rep­u­ta­tions clean in Bei­jing by si­lenc­ing com­plaints from their home dis­tricts. The se­cu­rity firm was paid to round up the would-be pe­ti­tion­ers be­fore their gripes could be recorded, then trans­port them back to their home­towns.

And busi­ness was boom­ing. Profit more than dou­bled to top $3 mil­lion in 2008, the mag­a­zine re­ported.

Peo­ple expressed ou­trage on­line over the re­port and the govern­ment’s at­tempt to squelch the jour­nal­ists. Other pub­li­ca­tions soon took up the story. The South­ern Me­trop­o­lis Daily re­ported that of­fi­cials paid as much as $45 a day for the cap­ture and de­ten­tion of a cit­i­zen.

Even the state me­dia got in­volved, with the New China News Agency call­ing for the ar­rest of lo­cal of­fi­cials along with com­pany ex­ec­u­tives. (That story also was scrubbed from the of­fi­cial news web­site soon af­ter it was pub­lished.)

Crit­ics from all cor­ners said the peo­ple who en­listed the com­pany’s ser­vices should not re­main un­scathed.

“If you only in­ves­ti­gate this com­pany and do noth­ing to the lo­cal govern­ment of­fi­cials, it’s not ef­fec­tive,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer who rep­re­sents Cai­jing. “They’re not get­ting at the ori­gin of the prob­lem.”

Liu Jian­dong, a 58-yearold re­tired telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions em­ployee from the south­west­ern city of Kun­ming, said he was de­tained by Anyuand­ing last year. Reached by phone this week, Liu was still seething with in­dig­na­tion over how he said he was treated.

Fol­low­ing a time-hon­ored tra­di­tion of seek­ing re­dress in the cap­i­tal, Liu jour­neyed to Bei­jing last year to com­plain of mis­treat­ment at the hands of his boss.

Liu said he was de­tained by po­lice while try­ing to lodge a com­plaint in the govern­ment telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions head­quar­ters. He was then taken to an of­fice be­long­ing to Anyuand­ing and handed over to uni­formed guards em­ployed by the firm, he said.

In the com­pany’s cus­tody, he and dozens of other pe­ti­tion­ers were held in a se­cret jail on the out­skirts of Bei­jing for 12 days, he said. Con­di­tions were squalid, and he said he saw other pris­on­ers beaten, though he was not.

Even­tu­ally, guards took him to a train sta­tion and es­corted him home.

“I’m very, very an­gry,” he said. “I’m go­ing to sue this se­cu­rity com­pany.”

The com­pany’s web­site has been taken down, but a cached ver­sion stored on Google shows a group of im­prob­a­bly un­der­fed-look­ing men in black. The web­site claimed a 3,000-per­son staff re­spon­si­ble for guard duty at shop­ping malls, of­fice build­ings and high-end vil­las.

“We have con­trib­uted pos­i­tively in en­sur­ing the safety of the cus­tomers and as­sist­ing the po­lice to main­tain so­cial or­der,” the web­site said. “And we have won recog­ni­tion from all sides of so­ci­ety.”

Re­cruit­ment ma­te­ri­als for the firm prom­ise a salary rang­ing from $134 to $224 a month, mi­nus $30 for uni­forms. All ap­pli­cants should be tall, with no tat­toos, psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues or con­ta­gious dis­eases.

They should also share “pro­gres­sive” po­lit­i­cal think­ing. As peo­ple here un­der­stand, that means it should be in line with that of the govern­ment.

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