China's Black Jails Showcase Government Officials Abuse of Citizens

In a sign that the Chinese government is trying to repair its repressive image, officials recently sentenced 10 men to prison for illegally detaining people and putting them in so-called "black jails."

Black jails are detention centers that detain people without trial or evidence when citizens try to petition government officials to highlight inaction at the local level.

The 10 men, who were sentenced anywhere from between six months to two years, orchestrated a well-kept secret of illegally detaining individuals that were thought to be a threat to local officials reputations and political career prospects.

The men were reportedly recruited by local government officials from the central province of Henan. They had ordered the capture and detainment of several citizens who went to the capital of Beijing to complain about inaction at the local level.

While the move is seen by many as an attempt by the Chinese government to root out corruption as well as shady politicians and officials, some still wonder if this new development is just a superficial response to an action that has gone unimpeded for years.

"The men behind the case were not even charged. The representatives in Beijing of the Chang Ge city government were the ones responsible, but the court said the case had nothing to do with our local government," Sang Shuling told Yahoo! News.

And that is the root cause of the problem that human rights activists are trying to solve and one which the Chinese government, at least initially, looks ready to address. But activists maintain that until local officials behind these illegal detention centers are punished they will not stop.

"So long as stability maintenance remains unchanged, illegal detentions cannot be eradicated, only reduced to a certain degree," Li Fangping, a prominent human rights lawyer, told Human Rights Watch. "Petitioners are still being illegally detained … and no official has ever been punished for it."