The “hitting the black” campaign in China was initiated in June 2009 by Bo Xilai, the high-profile communist party chief of Chongqing. The state-run media has lauded it as a means of cracking down on gangsters and local corruption, while critics view it as illegal, unconstitutional, and reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution. Some critics also say it functions to strengthen corruption within law enforcement circles.
The campaign has prompted the most large-scale crackdown on gangsters and corruption in the history of Chongqing since 1983, according to the deputy chief of the city’s Public Security Bureau.
An article in the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily on Feb. 3 reported that the campaign resulted in 10,372 people arrested within the city and over 1,000 sentenced to forced labor between July 10 and Sept. 30, 2009. The article, titled “Waves of Forced Labor Detentions Amidst the ‘Hitting the Black’ Campaign,” describes how the campaign has resulted in an inundation of the detention centers in Chongqing.
Police stations required to meet detention quotas
The article says that local police stations are given “forced labor detention quotas." A police chief receives a warning for not meeting the quota the first time; a second violation results in dismissal.
In order to meet quotas, some police stations resort to purchasing forced labor detainees—at a cost of 3,000 yuan (US$439) per detainee, according to the report.
City authorities also warn that anyone with a previous criminal record can be sent to a forced labor camp for carrying a knife.
One Chongqing resident said that local court officials made it clear that, under the “hitting the black” campaign, once a person is sent to a forced labor camp, he or she will be required to serve a forced-labor term.
The report also states that if it is determined that a mistake has been made, it is acceptable to compensate the person only after the term of detention is served.
Family disputes aggrandized by police
Critics and victims alike complain that the punishments being meted out do not fit the crimes.
For example, a typical family quarrel is reported as “breaking and entering” on paper. If someone puts a kitchen fruit knife in his backpack, he can be detained for up to two weeks.
Chen Anxian was on his way home from Chongqing to Guizhou on Sept. 19, 2009. While purchasing a ticket at a bus station, he was stopped and searched by police. He was arrested on the spot for carrying a knife in his bag. One month later, he was sentenced to one year of forced labor because he had a criminal record.
A young man demanded money from his sister to surf the Web. He had a knife in hand at the time, and his sister called the police who confiscated the fruit knife and charged him with “threatening” the family. He was ultimately sentenced to one year of forced labor.
The case was not recorded as a family dispute reported by phone, but as a case of “breaking and entering” which police said they encountered while patrolling the streets. “I would never have called the police if I had known that it would turn out like this,” the sister said.
Carrying knives with a spring-like mechanism can result in arrest. Bus stations, public squares, or even grocery markets have become key police checkpoints where such arrests are made, according to the article.
A political campaign that does not follow the law
According to Jason Ma, an economic and political commentator for New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV), many of the 1,000-plus people who have been sent to forced labor camps over the three-month period were wrongfully convicted; they were simply caught up in the campaign and fell victim to Bo Xilai’s political means to boost his image and career.
Heng He, another political commentator for NTDTV, concurred with Ma’s view, saying that the arrest of tens of thousands of people with over 1,000 of them being sentenced to forced labor camps over such a short period has definitely resulted in many wrongful convictions.
Theoretically, based on the available law enforcement manpower in Chongqing, the authorities could not possibly have time to collect evidence and establish solid cases for so many detainees in a three-month time period, Heng said. “And in this regard, it is just like what happened during the Cultural Revolution.”