HONG KONG—Petitioners in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi who were held in a “law study center” after they pursued complaints against local officials weren’t given enough food in detention, with one death reported from starvation, relatives and former inmates said.
“It was very serious,” said one former inmate of the Chenggu county law study center.
“They shut you up in there and they don’t give you food or water. We were all fainting in there together.”
“They never mention the law, and they never talk about anything. We were just locked up in there for 10 months because we made a complaint.”
Xu Lingjun, a disabled retiree from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), died in the center, which was set up by the Communist Party’s politics and law committee of Shaanxi’s Chenggu county, the former fellow inmate said.
“The person who died had been detained for 10 months, and his family had been placed under very tight surveillance,” the former inmate said.
“They threatened them, saying he was a troublemaker ... But the real problem is that they don’t give you [enough] food or water when you’re in there,” the petitioner said.
“You get two meals a day but there is only one liang (37.3 grams) of rice in each meal, and sometimes it’s not even that much,” he said. “Most of the time it’s noodles, very thin.”
Xu and his brother Xu Lingyong were detained by authorities after they tried to take a petition to the central government in Beijing in June 2009 together with a few other retired military personnel.
They received no food or water for their first three days of incarceration in the center, which forms part of a nationwide network of unofficial or so-called "black" jails in which local officials detain citizens who lodge complaints against them with higher authorities.
Their rations were set at one liang (37.3 grams) of rice twice a day, but they seldom received this much food, and were regularly beaten, the petitioner said.
The requirement for release from the center was that inmates sign a “guarantee” declaring that they will no longer pursue their complaint.
Xu and his brother declined out of a sense of responsibility towards the rest of the family, the petitioner and former fellow inmate said.
The family was informed of Xu’s death on March 18, 2010.
“Xu Lingjun was an outspoken man, who wasn’t afraid to fight,” said another retired army petitioner who knew him.
“He received the worst treatment inside [that place].”
“Those who knew him knew that he was in good health, but when they did the autopsy he was skin and bones, and had no belly on him,” he added.
“It was so cruel.”
A third petitioner said the hospital where Xu was taken was sealed off by police, who blocked any news of the event reaching the outside world.
“We all gave secret interviews to the media, but then nothing came of it,” he said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Chenggu county police department confirmed the identity of one of the guards at the study center named in several of the petitioner’s accounts.
Asked if an officer named Guang Xinli worked there, he said, “He’s been posted to the law study center. It was more than a year ago.”
But he declined to comment on the reports of Xu’s death from starvation.
“I don’t really know,” he said.
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.
One petitioner in eastern China’s Jiangsu province reported being summoned to a study group in late 2008, where she said she was beaten, humiliated, and sexually abused during her eight-day detention.
She said the Jiangsu authorities had been using the study groups as an illegal form of detention to prevent people with grievances against the government from stirring up trouble.
China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harrassed by the authorities if they try to take a complaint against local government actions to a higher level of government.
Retired military personnel have been cited by officials and activists as highly sensitive sectors of the population, who might swing a tide of public opinion in their favor and against the ruling Communist Party, because of their proven loyalty to Party and country.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.