A billboard with a foreboding message erected beside a road in Jiahe County, China’s Hunan Province, is indicative of the ruling regime’s tighter control of dissent, according to commentators: “To All Persistent and Noisy Petitioners: First time—Detention; Second time—Detention; Third time—Reeducation Through Labor.”
According to an eyewitness, this sign is located in Tianxin Township in Jiahe County to the right of a highway. Standing in a fork in the road, the sign stood at 7-8 square meters and was inscribed with “The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Tianxin Township Committee, Tianxin Township People's Government.” Photos of forced labor detainees, large handcuffs, and policemen with austere expressions made it a startling sight, according to an observer.
The observer said that the sign has been there for six months. Over the past few years, local government activities such as deforestation, exploitation of mines, illegal land occupation, and embezzlement of agricultural subsidy payments have caused severe environmental damage and conflicts between the ruling Party and the masses.
In 2009, the committee secretary and mayor were fired and sentenced to 15 years prison for embezzlement. Unresolved long-term conflicts caused the recent appearance of a large number of petitioners. To control the activities of the petitioners and conceal the problems affecting society’s lower classes, the Tianxin Township Committee obtained permission from the Jiahe County authorities to put up a billboard warning petitioners—those who go to present their complaints to the government—about the consequences of their actions.
The eyewitness said that his experiences among petitioners confirmed that they have been detained for petitioning; those who petition continuously have also been sent to reeducation through labor camps.
The labor reeducation system is ad-hoc; prisoners can be sent to camps for three years without any court hearing or legal procedures. No appeal process exists. According to the book “The Great Wall of Confinement,” in setting up the system Mao borrowed from both Imperial China and Stalin’s Russia, exceeding both in his mission to “remold” the thoughts of detainees through forced labor and propaganda. These characteristics of the labor system remain today, and abuse, beatings, and unsanitary conditions are commonplace.