Last month, well known Pastor Dennis Balcombe was arrested and detained in China. He was never taken to jail or processed in the legal manner as required by Chinese law. Instead, he was detained in a hotel room and questioned by the local authorities.
Several years earlier, Back to Jerusalem’s Brother Ren was arrested and detained while speaking at an underground meeting in China. He was not taken to a jail or processed in the legal manner as required by Chinese law.
The even more well known case of Chen Guangcheng who exposed human rights abuses in China’s ‘One-Child’ policy was not put in prison. Instead he was detained in his own home by the local authorities.
Political prisoners can make problems for China’s statistics that are kept by outside governments and international observers, so an elaborate system of underground prisons and detention centers have been formed in what is now being referred to as China’s Black Jails.
Black Jails is a term that refers to a series of secret network of detention centers located throughout China. Because of the secrecy and local control over these Black Jails, no one is completely sure how many prisoners are being detained. However, to give an indication, in December of 2012, the new leader of the ruling Communist Party, Xi Jinping, made a speech on the anniversary of China’s Constitution. After his speech, it was reported that more than 70,000 people were released from Black Jails throughout China.
Does that mean that China’s Black Jail system has been shut down? Well, not exactly.
Just this week, on the morning of May 13, while visiting a black jail in Ziyang, Sichuan Province, seven rights lawyers from Beijing and Chengdu were intercepted, beaten and kidnapped by unidentified men suspected of being officers of China’s Black Jail.
According to China Aid, there were four more lawyers who went to investigate the disappearance of their colleagues, when they too were detained.
On Tuesday morning, two of the detained lawyers, Jiang Tianyong and Tang Tianhao were released. Jiang had injuries on his legs from rocks during his detention and Tang was bleeding from his head.
The Black Jails are used to secretly detain, interrogate, and torture people that are considered to be a threat to the Communist Party. If a Christian pastor or evangelist is arrested and taken to jail, then there are records to destroy, prison witnesses, etc. However, if they are sent to a Black Jail, then they can merely disappear without a trace. Family does not have to be notified, records do not have to be kept, and in the case of foreigners, embassies do not have to be called.
According to recent reports, the Black Jails do have an official name when needed. They are often labeled as “Rule of Law Education Centers” or (法制教育中心). Some people have been reportedly detained for periods of five or six years, tortured, and in some cases killed. They are centers where torture is routinely used to extract information and punish behavior that is considered to be bad.
Back to Jerusalem has learned that Black Jails are very common in China. They are so common that you might have even stayed at one during your most recent trip to China. According to a November 14, 2012 CNN report, 52 years old Xie Jinghua and her 56 year old husband were on a trip to Beijing to protest being forced out of their home by the Communist Party to make way for new construction. They claim that they were not properly compensated and the Party stole their home and kept the money. Xie said that her and her husband were detained by plain clothes officers, taken by car back to Shanghai and held at the Holiday Inn Express in Nanhuizui on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Xie was held in custody for a week. When she tried to escape, she was thrown on to the bed and confined so that she could not get up. When CNN contacted The Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) that owns the Holiday Inn Express brand, a spokeswoman reported that a group of rooms were indeed booked by a government official from Pudong district of Shanghai on the days in question, but there was no indication that the rooms had been used to incarcerate Chinese citizens.
However, when a worker was asked about the days in question, they reported that the rooms were blocked off and they were guarded by people standing outside the door 24/7.
This incident has presented a problem for Holiday Inn, because the Black Jails are quickly becoming a cottage industry in China. Apartment complexes, old abandoned living quarters, and even hotels that have low occupancy rates can now make money by facilitating illegal detainments by the government of China. Holiday Inn’s parent organization reported, “IHG is committed to operating our company with integrity and we have a Human Rights Policy applicable across the business. We have signed the UN Global Compact, aligning our operations and strategies with the ten universal principles that include human rights and labor standards.”
Beijing refuses to acknowledge that Black Jails exist or that they are being used to persecute Christians, but in a rare court case in Beijing in February 2013, 10 men were sentence to prison for illegally detaining citizens in Henan Province where the underground house church is the most prominent.