A Chinese court has ruled in favor of a group of villagers detained in China's so-called "black jails" after traveling to Beijing to lodge complaints with the central government.
The official Xinhua news agency said 10 people were convicted Tuesday of illegally detaining the petitioners, who had traveled to the capital from central Henan province. The court said the defendants "falsely imprisoned" the petitioners for several days in two courtyards in Beijing last April.
It gave them jail sentences ranging from six months to two years, saying they "infringed the personal rights" of the petitioners. It also ordered them to pay an unspecified amount of compensation.
Rights groups say local Chinese officials often hire agents to stop petitioners from airing their grievances in Beijing, in an effort to cover up abuses. The petitioners often are forced to go back home or are detained without trial in extra-legal facilities known as "black jails."
The facilities often are located in hostels, hotels or other residential buildings. Rights groups say those held in such facilities do not have access to lawyers. Many also are deprived of food, sleep and medical care, and often are subjected to theft and extortion.
The central government recently has made a modest effort to acknowledge the existence of the black jails, which also are used to detain political and religious dissidents whom Beijing views as a challenge.
But the issue is sensitive for local officials, who have come to increasingly rely on the black jails to deal with protests over problems such as corruption, land seizures, pollution and other abuses.
Tuesday's Xinhua article did not mention the petitioners' particular grievances. It also did not comment on any possible relation between the defendants and the local government in Henan.