Entrance to the Juyuan Hotel on Majiabao Road, Beijing
Last week’s edition of Southern Weekly (Aug. 6) carried an extraordinarily rare article on a subject that is usually off-limits for the mainstream media in China: the “black jails” that operate outside of the law in Beijing, detaining people who have committed no crime and have simply come to the capital to exercise their legal right to petition the central government. The report avoids the term “black jail” and does not discuss the widespread use of these illegal places of detention. Nevertheless, it gives a graphic account of life inside one of them.
The spark for this article was the rape of a girl from Anhui province in the middle of the night, six hours after she arrived, by one of the thugs employed by a Henan local official to guard the petitioners in storeroom in the Juyuan Hotel near Beijing South Station.
Not surprisingly, given the importance of this story, it was quickly deleted from Southern Weekly’s website and other news sites that had copied it. Since then, it has spread through the internet, either in full or in part, in an ongoing process of deletion and reposting. Google.cn and Baidu have been heavily filtering their results for searches on the subject.
I’ve translated the article further down on this page and pasted a copy of the original on Page Two.
It’s ironic that this case should blow up just a week after the detention of Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications law professor Xu Zhiyong and the forced closure of his legal aid center, Gongmeng. (See Evan Osnos and Susan Jakes.) Xu Zhiyong has long defended the rights of petitioners. Last year I translated three of his blog posts about his attempts to free people being illegally detained at the Youth Hotel near Taoranting park. (A visit to one of Beijing’s ‘black jails’)
A few days after Southern Weekly published its report on the Juyuan Hotel rape, the English-language version of Global Times published a short summary of the story.
Associated Press followed up with more details: The girl, Li Ruirui, was a 20-year-old student who felt she had been unfairly expelled from her college.
She said she arrived in Beijing on July 31 after a 10-hour train journey from Jieshou in Anhui Province. She came to complain that her college expelled her and refused to let her switch to another major.
She was picked up by police on Monday last week near Tiananmen Square and taken to an assistance center on the south side of the city. There, she was handed over to men who said they would give her a place to stay, then take her back to her hometown.
They delivered her to the Juyuan Guesthouse, a four-story hotel offering basic rooms rented hourly or for the night. But she wasn’t given a room.
At the end of a hallway on the ground floor of the hotel is a filthy storeroom crammed with metal-framed bunk beds and old blankets. There are no mattresses or pillows. Garbage litters the floor and bare bulbs hang from the crumbling ceiling. There is a small squat toilet in the corner and a bolted door made of plywood that opens onto the hotel’s parking lot.
The student said she arrived in the evening, after the other detainees had finished dinner.
“I asked another petitioner what I could eat and they said: ‘Here you will eat like a pig and sleep like a dog,’” she said.
Inside the detention room at the Juyuan Hotel (screenshot from this Youtube video)
One of the petitioners AP spoke to “alleged the jail was run by Liu Xiangyang, an official from Tongbai County in Henan who lived with his wife in room 109.”
On August 11, Xinhua issued a terse article (English, Chinese) identifying a 26-year-old man called Xu Jian, from the same county as Liu Xiangyan. He reportedly surrendered to the police in Tongbai and confessed. The Xinhua article completely ignores the illegal conditions under which Li Ruirui was being held at the time of the rape. (See also a longer, more informative report by the China Daily)
Xu Jian is presumably the guard referred to as “Young Qiang” in the Southern Weekly report.
So what happens next? In 2003, the murder of Sun Zhigang was a catalyst for the abolition of Custody and Repatriation. (Professor Xu Zhiyong was involved in that case too.) But although Custody and Repatriation was an abused and abusive system, it was legal. The black jails are not. Their continued existance over the last few years suggests that the central government wants them to exist. This is not some obscure town in a far-away province. The locations of these detention centers, just a few miles south of Tiananmen and Zhongnanhai, have been publicized by campaigners.
The man who raped Li Ruirui should be punished. But if that is all that happens, if the black jails continue, then nothing has really been achieved. You cannot regulate something that is in itself illegal and, according to the government, does not exist.
Southern Weekly, August 6, 2009
Rape in a “grey hotel”
Six hours after she was taken to the Juyuan Hotel, Li Ruirui from Anhui province had been raped. The alleged perpetrator was a hotel “guard.” When the crime took place, more than 70 “special residents” who had come to Beijing from various parts of the country had been taken to the hotel, packed into a makeshift room in this grey compound near Beijing South Station. Police have already paid attention to this hotel on various occasions in the past. After this case was reported, the police immediately became involved and have held suspects overnight. What kind of hotel is this exactly? Why were people being “guarded” here? And what happened to them inside this grey makeshift room?
“We’ll give you food, lodging and resolve your problems”
It was 8pm on August 3 when the girl from Anhui, Li Ruirui, was taken into the Juyuan Hotel. Or to be precise, she was taken into a makeshift room on the east side of the hotel. Daylight was gradually fading into night. Dozens of people were crammed into the room, sitting or lying down. One of them, 34-year-old Wang Yunli had just drunk her first maize gruel in three days. 45-year-old Zhang Jianxiu was lying, tired, on the bed.
“She looked like a timid child.” Wang Yunli’s impression of Li Ruirui was that she was introverted and said little after she brought there.
Six hours later, Li Ruirui was raped. Various people identified one of the guards in the makeshift room as the rapist. After people who were locked up there ran out of the hotel and reported the case at the Yangqiao police station, criminal police have detained suspects overnight for questioning.
Piecing together statements by the hotel’s owner and staff, the Juyuan Hotel has a special “professional relationship” with local government representatives based in Beijing from Tongbai county, Henan province.
From the outside and from the hotel’s advertising, there seems nothing out of the ordinary about this building at the corner of Taoran Bridge on the Second Ring Road and near Beijing South Station. Entering the main gate topped with a large hotel sign and turning right, an old grey four-storey building appears before one’s eyes. Neighboring Beijing residents are familiar with facts like these: starting two or three years ago, they would often hear many people with non-Beijing accents being unloaded from vehicles by personnel who were also from other provinces, and taken into the makeshift room at the side of this hotel. Looking through the windows of their homes, residents would see these people eating or washing their faces. At night they would here the sound of arguments and screams.
Zhang Jianxiu and Wang Yunli were taken into the Juyuan Hotel for the same reason. They had come, separately, to Beijing to report their problems to relevant government departments. Soon afterwards, personnel from their hometowns found them and told them, “We’ll take you to a place that will give you food, lodging and resolve your problems.”
It’s not yet known why Li Ruirui, about 20 years old, was taken into the Juyuan Hotel, or what she felt at the time. Entering the main gate, turning right and walking down a 20-meter-long corridor, she was taken through a wooden door that was usually locked. She had now entered the makeshift room.
The world behind that wooden door was unknown to the outside world. In an on-the-spot investigation on August 5, Southern Weekly reporters discovered a 150-square-meter space. It included a main room of roughly 30 square meters, with the remaining space partitioned into small rooms of about ten square meters. Each small room had five or six bunk beds, like a university dormitory, with a messy pile of tattered bedding on some of them. The kitchen and the toilet were right next to each other. Mobile phone signals were blocked in here. Outside the wooden door, were the seven sturdy “guards.”
Staff gave various conflicting explanations as to what this makeshift room was used for. One woman said it was a storeroom and no one was locked up there. One man said it was a dining hall. However, one staff member in a corner told us quietly, “the people were taken away yesterday.”
Only by opening a big metal door on the other side can one see sunlight and this door was usually only opened for a short time after meals, so the lights in this room were always on in the daytime. The air was heavy inside this building. People could not leave the 150-square-meter room, nor could they communicate with the outside world.
According to various “residents,” more than 70 men, women, old people and children were lived here together. More than half of them were elderly. There were also several children who had lost both their parents and were brought by their grandparents. Seven guards lived in the main room, all of them men. One of them, called Young Qiang, was a good looking young man, 1.8 meters tall, well-built, with pale skin. But he often swore at people and beat them. On that evening on August 3, Li Ruirui was put in the main room near the door, on the top bunk. Young Qiang was on the bottom bunk.
Nightmare in the “grey room”
The young Li Ruirui hadn’t had time to adapt to this place, but Wang Yunli had. Li Ruirui’s arrival gave Wang Yunli a sense of foreboding.
This mother of four children was locked up here for two weeks from July 1-14. She describes that experience as “a nightmare.”
Up until she was brought here for the second time, she was afraid of coming again, but the power to choose was clearly out of her hands. “They said the quota would soon be assigned,” more than one person recalls, “getting used to life in there depended completely on an individual’s ability.”
Apart from being locked up, one also had to get used to the living conditions in this makeshift room. The only vegetables they had were winter melon pulp, pickled vegetables and old eggplant. There were no pillows or quilts on the bed; only a very thin mattress. [Translator’s note: Looking at video taken inside this room, the bedding is far too thin to be considered a “mattress.”] There was just one toilet for more than 70 people who would often have to queue for 40 minutes. One youngster was beaten up for wanting to watch the news when a guard wanted to watch a soap opera. An old person was hit for going to the kitchen to use some detergent.
The reason Wang Yunli was beaten was because she “knocked on the door too loudly.” She was shoved in the neck by a young man called Wang Xueli, sending her flying back several meters and down onto the floor. She finally managed to pull herself up, using a bed to support her, and clenched her fists. Someone protested, saying, “You should be taken to court.” But the attacker said in an even louder voice, “Go ahead and sue, then.”
Southern Weekly reporters learned that the Yangqiao police station, which has jurisdiction over the hotel, took the attacker in for questioning. While these people who had come to Beijing to report their problems were being held in confinement, this was their only hope.
Wang Yunli had also sought help. After she was beaten, she struggled for a chance to get a transfusion, running out of the hotel and dialing 110. After the police got involved, she was finally moved out of the big room and given a single five-square meter room on the second floor. It had a quilt, a mattress, pillows and a small television.
The threat of the male guards made the women even more afraid. In the sweltering heat of the night, they simply didn’t dare to take of their clothes to go to sleep. The second time she was brought here, Wang Yunli specifically chose a bed furthest inside, surrounded by a row of male petitioners. “It was safer that way.”
Her foreboding proved to be justified. In the pitch black of the night, a middle-aged guard called Old Zhao climbed onto her bed. She beat him off. Old Zhao then climbed onto the bed of a woman surnamed Han and, in a drunk state, groped her. After that, this shy woman squeezed beside Wang Yunli on the meter-wide hard board of the top bunk.
During the long daylight hours, some people slept, others chatted. Other petitioners consoled each other. When they really felt down, they would sing revolutionary songs like The East is Red. “We hoped people outside would hear us and help us get out.”
As for the newly arrived Li Ruirui, no one had had time to tell her about all the things that happened in this place.
Rape amid silence
In the early hours of August 4, time in the cramped, sweltering, acrid space passed until around 2 a.m.. Wang Chun, from Jinde in Anhui, who was sleeping in the main room, heard a loud noise from the welded steel tube frame of the bed by the door. In the darkness, he could vaguely see the guard Young Qiang standing under the bed, groping the body of newly arrived girl. “At the time I didn’t think any more of it,” said Wang Chun. “I thought it was just illicit sex.”
Not so long before, in this strange gathering of people, “love” had indeed existed between “guards” and “residents.”
A number of “veteran residents” recall that a woman called Han Li was given a black eye for dropping several peanuts in cold dish plate. After a day without eating, she changed her thinking. Before long she was became “friendly” with the guard who had hit her. In return, she received several hours of preferential treatment, going out for a walk, buying things, food, and use of a telephone.
Those who observed this say her relationship with the guard was like Stockholm Syndrome. However, “love” did in fact convince Han Li of the legality of this place. She would earnestly reassure newcomers: “They give you free food and lodging here and they help you sort out your problems. Don’t worry about staying here.”
When Young Qiang stretched out his hand towards Li Ruirui, she was already asleep. Later, Li Ruirui recalled in front of a camera that after she was shaken awake she heard Young Qiang saying, “Let’s go. Come out and have some fun.” Li Ruirui refused. Six hours earlier, when she was pulled in here, Young Qiang had already noticed her. Night had already drawn in and Li Ruirui lay face down, alone, in a daze on the bed. Young Qiang had stood below, patted her buttocks and shouted, “Beautiful girl. Come out for a stroll.” But Li Ruirui refused, saying, “I don’t know you.”
When Li Ruirui arrived at the Juyuan Hotel, she’d already missed the evening meal. Wang Yunli recalls that about 10 p.m. Li Ruirui had given some money to Young Qiang, begging him to buy her three packets of instant noodles. She kept one for herself and gave one each to two other people who were locked up at the same time as her, one of them an old person from her hometown.
Wang Chun saw the powerful Young Qiang climb onto Li Ruirui’s bed. He heard Li Ruirui cry out and became certain that this was rape, not illicit sex. But he and the other people in the room held their silence. “I heard the guards had weapons. There were a lot of them and most of us were old and weak, women and children. It was dark and I was afraid of being hurt.” At midday, on August 4, Wang Chun defended everyone’s silence. “We’re afraid of them.” Old Xie from Henan said, “Young Qiang had already hit people. He found any excuse to hit people. We were all afraid of him.” On the morning of August 5, in the block at 23, Majiabao Road, next door to the Juyuan Hotel, reporters learned that neighboring residents often heard shouting and swearing coming from the building next door, “But none of us knew what was happening inside.”
Wang Chun and Old Xie said later, they both saw Young Qiang climb onto Li Ruirui’s bed, cover himself with a sheet and lie on top of her.
At midday on August 4, on the way to report the crime at the police station, Li Ruirui described what happened in front of a kind-hearted person’s camera. “At first he stood in front of the bed and kissed me on the face. I pushed him, but I couldn’t push him away. After he’d kissed me for a while, he climbed up and started kissing my neck. I pushed him again and shouted at him to get off, but I still couldn’t push him away. He tore open the clothing covering my breasts. I tried to stop him groping me, but he did it anyway. I couldn’t push his hands away. Then he took of his trousers and took off my trousers as well.”
In front of the camera, this oval-faced young girl with long narrow eyes speaks with an almost indifferent tone. At the end of her description, she suddenly becomes agitated, her voice sharp and high-pitched.
At the time of the rape, someone thought they heard an old person shout “If you don’t get down, I’ll beat you to death with a stick.” Twenty minutes later, Young Qiang got down. Old Xie saw Li Ruirui sit up and shout, “He raped me. Don’t run away.”
“We don’t want you to deal with our problems”
Most people only found out what had happened after daybreak. Every night there were disturbances, cries, shouts and nightmares, so that night people hadn’t thought there was anything out of the ordinary when they heard Li Ruirui crying out.
After daybreak, the people staying there started to complain that it had been too noisy outside that night. But people soon saw the butterfly-shaped blood stain on Li Ruirui’s sheet. Several eyewitnesses began to talk about the rape. Emotions reached boiling point; some people had been locked up for four months.
Li Ruirui was already in the toilet, washing herself. More than one eyewitness says there was blood left on the tap. At first, Li Ruirui was worried that so many people had seen she had been raped, that now she wouldn’t be able to get married. She decided she would pretend nothing had happened. But the two women who had eaten her instant noodles the night before reminded her, “If you just accept this, he’ll think you’re easy and he’ll often take advantage of you”
“At the time, Li Ruirui was numb, in a daze. But when she heard what women with some experience had to say, she started crying and beating Young Qiang, grabbing him and scratching him” Wang Yunli says Young Qiang just sat there and didn’t fight back.
In the past, at 6 o’clock in the morning, it would have been time for everyone to start making breakfast. But on this day, no one took care of it. Everyone was thinking about leaving this cage. Women started hammering on the metal door on the right side of the main room, shouting “Someone’s been raped. Help.” Outside, there was no sound. Young Qiang tried to stop the women shouting, but his arrogance had already lost its former power to instill fear. “We’ve got to break out and report this to the police and demand justice for this young girl.” Some 20 hours later, Wang Yunli can’t remember who first proposed this, but at that time, this was what everyone in the stirred up crowd was thinking.
The next day, residents in the block next door at 23, Majiabao Road, heard an enormous sound of shouting and bashing coming from the makeshift room. When the women’s shouts brought no response, the men cast their eyes on the wooden door on the other side of the main room leading to the front desk. Old Xie and several others pulled on the copper door handle. They pulled and kicked, and before long the door was broken. People started to pour out of the room.
Several people gathered the blood-stained white sheet and the green and white mattress as evidence and followed the crowd outside. Young Qiang stood in the doorway trying to block their way, but several men thrust him aside in an instant. All of the more than seventy people who had been locked up followed, except three who were disabled.
In the corridor, four or five staff tried to persuade them not to go. “Your problems still haven’t been dealt with.”
The crowd shouted, “We don’t want you to deal with our problems.”
They left the narrow hotel lobby into the yard. And outside the yard was vast city. The hotel boss shouted, “If you go, your cases will never be dealt with.” “Today, we’re going to deal with your rape case,” the crowd shouted back and flooded towards the Yangqiao police station, less than 500 meters from the Juyuan Hotel.
The hotel boss’s shouts did, however, divide their ranks. Some people said they should go back to get their problems resolved. Some, afraid of life inside the hotel, went straight back home. By the time they reached the police station, the crowd had thinned out. Early in the morning of August 5, a police officer at the Yangqiao station explained that criminal police had quickly taken up the case. In the sealed interrogation room, criminal police questioned the people involved until early the next day. A number of witnesses were ordered to cooperate in the police investigation and three suspects, including Young Qiang’s younger brother, were detained (控制). A policeman at the station said the victim’s family had been informed and were coming to Beijing.
That evening, the prisoners who had burst out of the hotel planned to spend their first night after their escape in a garden by the street.
(The names of Wang Yunli and Zhang Jianxiu have been changed.)