12/06/2012, 00.00
CHINA
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Hundreds of inmates released from a Beijing 'black jail' to make room for more

News about the release of "tens of thousands" of inmates from illegal prisons was met with great joy. A day later, reality struck with reports that only a few hundreds were let go to make room for new arrivals.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - One of Beijing's largest 'black jails' released a few hundred petitioners held without trial or rights. Initially, news about the event was seen as a positive step; now it appears that it was taken to create room for new detainees.

Some of the people released said that the 'black jail' in question, which is located on the outskirts of the capital, hosts 70,000 to 80,000 inmates. On Tuesday night, prison guards opened some overcrowded  detention tanks and let some inmates leave without motive.

A day earlier, Huang Qi, of the Chengdu-based Tianwang Human Rights Centre, had said that tens of thousands of people had been released but later had to apologise for his mistake.

Every year, millions of Chinese try to travel to the capital to present petitions against corrupt provincial Communist officials. This right is guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.

However, in recent years the central government has adopted regulations that allow police to seize petitioners for up to three years without trial and hold them in 'black jails', all this for fear of being swamped by their petitions.

As the great dissident Bao Tong put it, the confusion between political and judicial powers has created a black hole in Chinese society that feeds social unrest.

Last October, the government presented a draft bill to reform the legal system to stop such abuses of power, including harassment against lawyers and the 're-education through labour' system; however, so far nothing has been done.

On 29 November, a Beijing court convicted ten men for running a 'black jail' on behalf of a local government. However, it handed down very light sentences (the harshest is one year).

Despite this, many ordinary Chinese welcomed the decision, seeing it as a change spurred by the country's new Communist leadership.

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