Authorities in Beijing have sentenced a veteran activist to 18 months in a labor camp after he led journalists to one of the government's unofficial detention centers, known as "black jails," rights campaigners said.
Liaoning petitioner Zhao Zhenjia was handed the labor camp sentence in recent days, following his detention by Beijing police on Jan. 22, the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) website said.
The group said his punishment could be linked to his exposure of illegal detentions of ordinary Chinese with complaints against the government, but that Zhao had also attracted police attention for planning a Lunar New Year party for petitioners in the capital, many of whom are homeless and reduced to begging for survival.
"Beijing police took Zhao into custody on Jan. 22 but reportedly did not send a detention notice to his family in Fushun City," CHRD said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday.
"They also did not permit some of Zhao’s friends to visit him at the You'anmen police station," it said.
Zhao's sentence comes after a three-year stint of "re-education through labor" handed down in 2000 in connection with his petitioning activities.
Zhao has been petitioning the Chinese authorities for nearly 40 years to claim compensation for wrongful imprisonment during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
While his verdict was overturned by the same court in 1985, under a reconciliation movement instigated by late former premier Hu Yaobang, Zhao was never given compensation.
Prior to Chinese New Year, Zhao reportedly led some journalists to a black jail, which led to the release of the petitioners detained there.
Indicted for 'fraud'
Meanwhile, authorities in China's eastern province of Anhui have indicted petitioner and activist Wang Xile on suspicion of “fraud” based on his alleged dealings with rural machinery workers, CHRD said.
Wang, 62, was detained last September by Mengcheng county police officers after he received payments from rural residents to help them write complaints, although he is believed to have refused the money.
"For many years, Wang has attracted the ire of local authorities by volunteering to help write petitioning materials for fellow citizens and also representing petitioners in their grievances," CHRD said.
China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against actions by local officials to higher levels of government.
Many have been trying to win redress for alleged cases of official wrongdoing—including forced evictions, beatings in custody, and corruption linked to lucrative land sales—for decades.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.