In the wake of official celebrations of the 90th anniversary of China's ruling Communist Party, authorities in Beijing have begun systematically detaining the thousands of petitioners still in the capital.
Official media said the government had expanded "reception centers" in the city, designed to hold petitioners until they can be taken back to their hometowns by local officials.
But petitioners said many were being held at unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," in inhumane conditions.
"I heard that there's no room to lie down in Jiujingzhuang, so they have to stay standing up," said Xu Fengru, a petitioner from the northwestern province of Jilin.
"If it rains, they just get wet outside because there's no room inside the building," Xu said.
She said that government officials had hired informants from among the ranks of petitioners to persuade others to turn themselves in at the detention centers.
"Right now our traitor is from Jiutai city in Jilin province," said Jilin petitioner Xu Fengru. "[The person] is telling people that if they go to the Jiujingzhuang [reception center] that the authorities will sort out their problem."
"Everyday these people go out and lie to people to persuade them to go there. They hoodwink 400-500 people into going there every day," Xu added.
She said the government complaints offices were closed from the July 1 anniversary through July 10, but that the informants were still telling people that complaints were being heard.
Army of petitioners
China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by the authorities if they try to take a complaint against local government actions to a higher level of government.
Activists are becoming increasingly vocal about China’s black jails, which they say function as detention centers holding protesters without due process or right to appeal.
A recent report in the Beijing Morning News said the authorities had refurbished a similar detention center at Majialou, also on the outskirts of the capital, to make it "more humane."
The previously makeshift center had been expanded and made more permanent, the paper said.
Majialou now had a capacity of 3,500 petitioners with a total of 500 beds for overnight stays, it said.
The number of ordinary Chinese traveling to Beijing to pursue grievances against the government swelled ahead of the Party's 90th anniversary, as petitioners hoped their cases would get a more sympathetic hearing.
China hailed Friday's anniversary as "a birthday party for one billion people," organizing celebratory events up and down the country, including concerts of revolutionary songs from the Mao era.
A group of petitioners from the southern province of Guangdong said five of their representatives had been beaten by the authorities after arriving in Beijing.
"Lin Tingwu ... was forcibly taken to ... the Dongfang Lujing Guesthouse in Haidian district after arriving in Beijing and beaten," the petitioners said in an email to RFA's Mandarin service.
A local resident who knew the petitioners said that the group had been escorted back to their hometown of Haishan township, near Chaozhou.
"After Lin Tingwu was beaten up by the Chaozhou representative officials in Beijing, he was [taken] to the hospital in Haishan township, Raoping county," said the villager, surnamed Zhu.
The villagers said repeated calls to the police about the beating had failed to elicit a response.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.