We are pleased to see 10 people were sentenced to prison for illegally detaining petitioners in a "black jail", the first we've heard of the legal system admitting the existence of these thugs.
When mainland Chinese feel wronged and believe local officials will not help or are part of the problem, the petitioners will come to Beijing in hopes of getting the attention of the central government. This practice dates back to imperial times when ordinary people could make their pleas heard by emperors by sending their petitions to the court.
However, local officials' promotions are tied to job performances and don't want blemishes on their records, which is why they hire thugs to prevent petitioners from pleading their cases. They catch them either on their way to the capital or already there and detain them in places called "black jails", a location that could be rooms in a hotel to an empty farmhouse in the outskirts of the city. The petitioners can be kept for a indefinite period of time and in some cases are badly beaten.
In yesterday's court ruling in Beijing, the 10 defendants were from Henan province, peasants aged 17 to 32, were handed sentences ranging from six months to two years for illegally detaining petitioners last year.
According to a Xinhua report, the men intercepted four petitioners on the night of April 28 where they forcefully drove them to a rented house. They were kept overnight and then sent back to Henan.
The petitioners then went back to Beijing again and reported the case to the police who then arrested the defendants on May 2.
Xinhua said the main defendant Wang Gaowei rented two houses on the outskirts of Beijing to detain petitioners from Henan. The report added the defendants were hired by a man called Fu Zhaoxin.
According to Southern Metropolis Daily, Fu was Wang's uncle and was responsible for hiring the men in the village, most of whom were from impoverished families.
Wang's father was quoted as saying his son was asked by the Yuzhou city officials to work in Beijing. "[They] said they found him a good job."
In the end Fu was not arrested nor charged for being the mastermind behind detaining the petitioners which made them outraged.
"The verdict said they had nothing to do with the local government, how can this be?" asked Jia Qiuxia, one of the petitioners.
The four petitioners were given compensation of 2,400 RMB ($385) each, but three of them said it was not enough to cover the injuries and mental anguish they suffered when they were beaten by the guards.
Jia added he did not think the illegal detention of petitioners would end despite the verdict in the court case.
"We still hear about other people being taken away."
While the court case may cause officials to think twice about detaining people illegally, the practice will probably continue since the official who hired the thugs in the first place wasn't charged at all. And it sounds like the people hired to detain petitioners don't necessarily know what they are getting themselves into as they just want to have a decent paying job.
This is just another of Beijing's ways of looking like it's dealing with the problem, but not really. If it earnestly wanted to end "black jails" and the micro economy around them, the government would have stepped in.
But this case shows the central government's inability to resolve the need to push for further legal reforms and more checks and balances in every level of government.
Freedom of the press and rule of law would have put an end to this illegal practice a long time ago, but as long as the Communist Party is in power, these two things will never change.
And so it goes...