Beijing Cracks Down On Private Security Companies Used To Detain Petitioners

February 2, 2012

According to Global Times, a publication that operates under the official People's Daily, Beijing municipal Public Security Bureaus launched an official six-month "crack down" on illegal detentions of petitioners by private security companies. The crackdown comes after Chinese news media exposed instances of abuse by "stability maintenance organizations" under contract by local governments to prevent petitioners from airing their grievances to the central government. While authorities have cast the "crackdown" as a serious attempt to restrict the use of private "stability maintenance organizations," the implications and effectiveness of the crackdown remain unclear.

Petitioning exists to provide a channel, outside of court challenges, for citizens to appeal government decisions and present their grievances. Chinese citizens often use the petitioning system to seek redress for perceived wrongs, especially when dealing with issues in local corruption and land compensation. (See the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2011 Annual Report for additional information on the petitioning system.) When seeking redress at the central government level, petitioners from all regions attempt to travel to Beijing, where the central government is located, and present their grievances to central authorities through attempts to hand over letters, pass out leaflets, set up banners in prominent locations, or otherwise draw attention to one's grievance (see, e.g., hand over letters, pass out leaflets, set up banners).

In October 2010, Southern Metropolitan Daily exposed a private security company, Anyuanding, under contract by local governments to block petitioners from petitioning to central authorities in Beijing. An October 27, 2010, article in Global Times reported that Anyuanding employed a variety of methods to prevent petitioners from making their grievances heard. The methods reportedly included coercion, pressure, abduction, detention in ''black jails'' (extralegal detention facilities) for extended periods of time, and beatings. In 2010, Chinese Human Rights Defenders documented at least 2,600 cases of petitioner detention in the black jails. More recently, in August 2011, Chinese media exposed former employees of a private security company who ran a black jail that held petitioners located on the outskirts of Beijing in an operation revealed to be funded by five local governments.

Current Crackdown Regulations
According to a December 1, 2011, Beijing News article (via Xinhua), the Beijing public security bureau will require all security companies to register by the end of February 2012 and has adopted a zero-tolerance policy against those who seek to "block petitioners and act against regulations." Specifically, the main goals of the crackdown target companies that block petitioners from reaching central authorities, operate without a license, and use violence against petitioners. In addition, according to Global Times, authorities will prohibit security companies from using police insignia and start keeping records of security companies' activities.

Results Uncertain
The effectiveness and long-term impact of the crackdown remain unclear. China's Regulations on Public Security Services, which became effective in January 2010, already contain regulations on "stability maintenance," and private security companies. For example, Chapter 2 contains conditions which must be met (Articles 8-12) by security companies before operations can start, including a license application requirement (Article 9). Furthermore, current regulations already prohibit some potential conflict of interest situations by preventing authorities from running and managing private security companies (Article 40).

However, as an April 12, 2011, article from Caijing points out, it has been difficult for local authorities to give up the practice of running private security companies. According to the article, the lack of guidance on how to disentangle security bureaus from operating private security companies, and the desire by public security bureaus to keep collecting financial rewards from the reportedly 40 billion yuan industry have all contributed to lack of reform in spite of having laws on the books.

Many Chinese citizens still view citizen petitioning to central authorities as the ultimate channel for redress against wrongdoing by local officials even though only approximately 0.2 percent of the petitioners resolve their grievances through petitioning, according to Global Times based on 2007 research conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As a June 6, 2011 Caijing article points out, the central authorities' mandate to preserve stability, especially the practice of tying the lack of petitioning incidents to local officials' career advancement, has contributed to the rise of illegal conduct by private security companies against petitioners. It remains to be seen whether a six-month-long crackdown on these companies will have any fundamental effect on the entrenched system.

For additional information on petitioning, see Section III—Access to Justice in the CECC 2011 Annual Report.