Beijing Petitioners Break Out of Black Jail

February 4, 2014 Updated: November 23, 2015

Hundreds of cold, hungry, and thirsty petitioners, locked up for seeking reparations for government misdeeds, broke out of an unofficial detention center in Beijing on Friday.

Six to seven hundred angry petitioners stood outside the detention center and blocked traffic to protest their situation, saying that during closure of government holidays for the Chinese New Year, they were given meager food, and no water or quilts, reported Radio Free Asia (RFA).  

At least 1,000 petitioners had been detained in the Majialou Relief and Assistance Center for several days, petitioner Ying Ligang from Jiangxi Province told RFA, when hundreds of them broke out.

“They were shouting slogans which called on President Xi Jinping to … bring down [corruption] and give them back their human rights,” Ying explained. “They even sang the ‘Internationale’ and blocked traffic for several hours,” he said. 

The “Internationale” is considered the de facto anthem of the Chinese Communist Party. With its injunction of “Arise, oppressed of the earth,” the Black Jail inmates most likely meant to identify themselves with those the CCP asks to revolt, throwing the CCP’s anthem back in officials’ faces.

They had come to Beijing for the Chinese New Year holiday, hoping for the chance to petition authorities or draw attention to their grievances, but were rounded up and detained in Majialou, a black jail in the suburban Fengtai district.

“They just gave us two steamed buns and a piece of ham, and a tiny bag of pickled mustard tuber, and then locked us up for many hours,” one of the escaped petitioners, Wang Yan, complained to RFA.

“We couldn’t stand it, and we all got angry and forced our way out,” she continued. “There was no water to drink, no quilts, and the air was terrible, and we couldn’t sleep.

“The interceptors came in and beat up some petitioners,” Wang said. “Yesterday, there was a petitioner who had a hole beaten in his head.” The “interceptors” are essentially hired thugs—individuals sent by local officials to abduct people from their area and prevent them from protesting.

She told RFA that the petitioners confronted police and officials who tried to coerce them back to their cells, and warned them not to use force. 

“We said we have had enough of injustice, and if you start bullying us again, there will be no way out for us but death,” the petitioners warned the officials, Wang told RFA.

Majialou, a black jail complex of seven story buildings ostensibly serves as a homeless and public welfare center. The center exists outside the official judicial system, and serves as an extra-legal holding and detention area for petitioners or protesters. 

The petitioners in most cases are never allowed their constitutional right to petition to the Communist Party (CCP) for redress, but are instead taken back to their home towns by interceptors, police, and officials sent to escort them back.

Although the CCP has announced reforms for the petition system, rights activists remain skeptical that any reforms will bring solutions or justice to the petitioners.