A Chinese rights website has launched an online campaign to abolish unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," used to detain those who complain to higher levels of government about local officials.
Citing the case of long-term petitioners from the eastern province of Jiangsu who were held in a school, a guesthouse and a detention center against their will last week, the China Weiquanwang website issued a statement condemning the practice, which it said has become widespread throughout the country.
"For a long time, authorities across the country have been depriving petitioners and rights defenders of their freedom," the group said in a statement posted on its website at the weekend.
"Staff in these detention facilities often insult and humiliate detainees, and have even robbed, raped, seriously injured and killed them," it said.
"We call on the authorities to pursue those responsible for acts of revenge against rights activists, and to forbid them from depriving citizens of their freedom," it said.
"Departments that respect the dignity of rights defenders will set China on the path to a civilized society," it said.
Shaanxi-based petitioner Kang Suping, who helped draft the statement, and also signed it, said she has also been a victim of the "black jail" system.
"I have been locked up six times in a black jail," Kang said in an interview on Monday. "On one occasion, from Jan. 14-21, 2012, I was given no food, beaten up, and deprived of sleep for eight days."
"They got the things I most like to eat, and ate them in front of me, saying, 'if you beg me, I'll let you eat one mouthful.'"
Kang said the ostensible reason for the torture was to make her "admit her mistakes."
She said she had started the campaign to abolish black jail detentions alongside a group of dissidents, scholars and other people who had suffered through similar experiences.
Sichuan-based rights activist and campaign supporter Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said he had been locked up in unofficial detention for a long period.
"There are some people who lose their lives during their incarceration," Huang said. "Some end up severely disabled."
"Working with others, they have launched one wave after another of activities aimed at abolishing black jails," Huang said. "And yet, they still haven't been abolished."
"We hope that the authorities will pay attention to public opinion, and abolish black jails as soon as possible," he added.
'Stranglehold' on dissidents
In May, Sichuan authorities detained and beat high-profile rights lawyers who tried to visit an unofficial detention center, or "black jail," according to fellow lawyers who spoke with them during the attack.
Days later, London-based rights group Amnesty International hit out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party for keeping up a "stranglehold" on dissidents and rights activists last year, subjecting thousands to arbitrary detention in labor camps and unofficial "black jails."
In 2012, Beijing earmarked 701 billion yuan (U.S. $112 billion) in funding for "stability maintenance," an increase of over 30 billion yuan (U.S. $4.9 billion) from the previous year.
While criminal laws had been revised to strengthen protection of minors and the mentally ill, police had also been authorized to detain people in secret for up to six months for some crimes, including "endangering state security," Amnesty said.
Such detentions could be carried out without notifying the suspect’s family of the location or reasons for detention, potentially legalizing enforced disappearance, the report said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.