by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Dec 2, 2012
A Chinese court handed jail terms to 10 "interceptors" for illegally imprisoning citizens hoping to lodge complaints with the central government, state media said Sunday.
The 10 were imprisoned after they illegally detained people from the central province of Henan who had travelled to Beijing to complain about local government abuses, the state-run Beijing Youth Daily reported.
Under China's long-standing "petitioning" system, people can request that the central government step in to investigate abuses by local officials at a dedicated complaints office in the Chinese capital.
But the officials, eager to protect their reputations, often employ "interceptors" to catch petitioners and detain them in secret facilities known as "black jails" to prevent them from lodging complaints.
A Beijing court handed down sentences ranging from several months to a year-and-a-half in prison for "illegal imprisonment", the first time such workers have been sentenced in the capital, the Beijing Youth Daily said.
Petitioners said the interceptors wore badges showing their affiliation with the Henan government and detained them in a facility run by Henan officials in Beijing, where they were also beaten, according to the report.
Despite years of calls for China to shut down its "black jails", rights groups continue to report frequent cases of petitioners being illegally detained and physically assaulted.
Top US official meets families of Tibetan self-immolators
More than 20 people have set fire to themselves this month and assistant secretary Mike Posner met with some families on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday.
He voiced "deepest condolences and our grave concern for the spiraling violence and harsh crackdown in Tibetan areas as well as... grief with regard to the self-immolations," she said.
"We remain very concerned about rising tensions that result from counterproductive policies, including those that limit freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association in Tibet," she said.
Nuland did not say where the meeting was held in a bid to protect the families who were involved "from reprisals."
The spate of burnings in recent weeks began in the run-up to the Chinese Communist Party's set-piece congress, at which Xi Jinping was named the party's new general secretary in a once-in-a-decade power handover.
According to the US-based Radio Free Asia, the latest incidents on Sunday and Monday -- two in Gansu province, one in Qinghai and one in Sichuan -- brought the number to 21 this month and 85 since 2009.
Washington was also concerned about reports that 20 students were injured in clashes with police earlier this week against "a government-issued booklet which derided the Tibetan language, the Dalai Lama and self-immolators."
"We are going to continue to raise this publicly and privately and urge the Chinese government, at all levels, to address policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions and that threaten the distinct religious, cultural and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people," Nuland said.
China News from SinoDaily.com
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