An unofficial detention center in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi is holding around a dozen elderly people who tried to pursue complaints against the government, subjecting them to routine beatings and other mistreatment, one inmate said.
A 72-year-old petitioner surnamed Wei from Guangxi's Anyang county told RFA's Cantonese service that she and a group of elderly people in their 60s and 70s had been taken into extrajudicial detention as they tried to travel to Beijing to lodge an official complaint ahead of the Oct. 1 National Day celebrations.
After being brought back to Guangxi by local officials, Wei said the group was forced onto a bus and driven to an unknown location.
"There are a lot of people locked up in here," Wei said in an interview on Friday.
"Some are petitioners in their 30s, but some are like me, in their 60s and 70s," she said. "We are being held in separate rooms, and we have to sleep on the floor."
"There are around five or six security guards in each room, just watching us," said Wei, who also supplied photographs to support her story. "Outside, there are steel gates which are locked shut, and it's miles from anywhere."
"There are high walls all around, and we can't get out," she said.
Wei, who suffers from high blood pressure, said she had asked to be taken to hospital, a request that was refused by staff of the unofficial detention facility.
She said staff were also constantly interviewing inmates, putting pressure on them not to pursue their complaints any further.
"If you don't do what they say, the security guards won't spare you because you're old," Wei said.
China's army of millions of petitioners say they are routinely harassed, beaten, and detained in unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," if they try to pursue complaints against their local government with higher authorities.
Wei said her experience was now becoming "commonplace" for many in her position.
"It's very common for petitioners to be locked up in black jails and beaten," she said. "I have been injured, even seriously injured, to the point of losing consciousness."
Wei's daughter, who gave only her surname He, said her mother had begun petitioning after she was forcibly evicted by local officials from her home, but with no result.
"In mainland China, there are no human rights to speak of," He said. "The authorities can lock you up whenever they like, and if you are a petitioner, they will detain you."
"My old mother and other elderly petitioners are frequently targeted, so the authorities can retaliate against our family," she said.
Meanwhile, the husband of Hubei-based petitioner Gao Yuhua said she had also been detained in a black jail in the central Chinese province after a trip to Beijing to complain about the couple's forced eviction from their home.
"We suddenly got a call from my wife, very late, from Beijing," said Liu Qingshan in an interview on Friday. "She was shouting down the telephone that we should come and rescue her as soon as possible."
"After that, we just heard a scream, and the phone line went dead," he said.
Liu said he had finally tracked his wife down to a black jail in an industrial park, miles from the city, where he had called her name.
"My wife heard me calling her and stuck her head out of the window, because she couldn't get out, and then the security guards from the black jail came down to shoo me away," he said.
"I was beaten up," he said. "I have a bad heart, and I couldn't fight back. If you fight back then they beat you up far worse."
He said he had reported Gao's detention to local police, who had traveled to the black jail with him, but didn't dare to go inside.
He said his wife had now been transferred to a second black jail at an unknown location.
Beijing on Tuesday issued a white paper on judicial reform that promised to address abuses of judicial power, including the mistreatment of lawyers and the controversial "re-education through labor" system.
"Effective measures are being taken to deter and prohibit the obtainment of confessions through torture, better protect the rights of criminal suspects and defendants and protect attorneys' rights to exercise their duties," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
"Measures are also being taken to strictly control and prudently apply the death penalty," it said.
It quoted judicial official Jiang Wei as saying that "China still has problems in its judicial system."
It said the use of lawyers was on the rise in the general population.
Thousands of petitioners from across China have converged on the state complaints bureau in Beijing, as the authorities struggle to keep a lid on public displays of discontent ahead of a crucial meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Chinese authorities are tightening controls on rights activists, petitioners, and lawyers ahead of the 18th Party Congress next month.
The contemporary "letters and visits" petitioning system was formally established in 1951 and reinstated during the 1980s following the large number of appeals against summary verdicts handed down during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
China says it receives between 3 million and 4 million complaints in the form of "letters and visits" annually, with the number peaking at 12.72 million in 2003.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.