Skip to main content

Report: Chinese city enforcers accused of brutality

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
May 24, 2012 -- Updated 2304 GMT (0704 HKT)
The Human Rights Watch reports says street vendors have been typical victims of abuse.
The Human Rights Watch reports says street vendors have been typical victims of abuse.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Beat Him, Take Everything Away," cites abuses by Urban Management Law Enforcement unit
  • Behavior of "chengguan" has caused widespread public anger, undermined social stability
  • Victims of chengguan abuse -- many of them street vendors -- say they've been chased, beaten
  • Urban Management Law Enforcement unit used to tackle low-level urban crime

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Squads of local government enforcers are operating in Chinese cities without proper supervision, often employing brutal methods and carrying out illegal detentions, a new report from Human Rights Watch claims.

The 76-page report, "Beat Him, Take Everything Away," documents abuses by the Urban Management Law Enforcement units, known as "chengguan," whose principle function is to assist regular police in tackling low-level crime in urban areas such as traffic violations and unauthorized street vendors. It says the behavior of "thuggish" officers has caused widespread public anger and undermined social stability.

While they have the power to impose fines on violators, the chengguan do not have the authority to detain people or use excessive force.

Read the full report here

But victims of chengguan abuse -- many of them street vendors -- describe being dragged, punched, kicked, and thrown from their vehicles to the street for no apparent reason, while others report being ordered to pay arbitrary fines or even being taken into custody without a reason given.

'Thugs for hire' in China?
Chen leaves behind Chinese crackdown
China's 'rumor hunters'

One victim, a 32-year-old migrant from Henan province, told HRW that three chengguan officers in Beijing got onto her cart and without explanation began confiscating the grapes she was selling. When she protested, they began kicking and cursing her. They said "F*** your mother. You dare ask us for a reason?"

Last year, three officers from a local city management bureau in northeast China's Liaoning Province were arrested after a man died when he was attacked trying to lay cement outside his home, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. No details about the fate of the officers were given.

The New York-based rights group claims chengguan have also been implicated in the forced eviction of residents from their homes "at a time when alleged collusion between corrupt officials and property developers has created what a Chinese human rights organization has described as a 'pandemic of illegal demolition' in China."

HRW says the report is based on interviews with victims of abuse and other research in six Chinese cities between mid-2009 and 2011, and builds on work documenting violations by Chinese police and other public security forces over the past five years, including enforced disappearances, abuses in detention and torture.

"One of the alarming aspects of the chengguan is that there is no clear national framework -- a legal one, a training one -- for supervising and disciplining the chengguan," Sophie Richardson, HRW's China Director told CNN.

"It's up to the individual municipalities how to define and manage these forces, so it's very unclear to whom they can be held accountable."

In November last year, the Beijing Urban Management Bureau issued guidance for its enforcement officers, according to a Beijing Evening News report cited by China Daily. New guidelines prohibit officers from beating, abusing or insulting the other party, the forceful seizure of goods, forceful checks on vehicles, chasing vehicles and chasing people on foot.

Part of the point we're trying to make with this report is to say 'this force is causing instability by virtue of its brutal conduct.'
Sophie Richardson, HRW

More than 7,000 urban management officers and 6,500 security guards and assistants would receive training on the new regulations, the article added.

The HRW report comes at time when China's Communist Party is battling to restore a sense of unity and stability in the country as it prepares for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition. Recent allegations of abuses by Chongqing authorities under disgraced former Party chief Bo Xilai, and the controversy surrounding the treatment of blind activist Chen Guangcheng, have put the leadership on the back foot.

Chinese human rights activist Chen arrives in U.S.

Richardson pointed to a similarly sensitive period for China's leadership as the country prepared to host the 2008 Olympic Games, and it invested heavily in its security forces, giving them more resources and political power to reinforce their control.

The rise of the chengguan, she says, is consistent with that strategy, though it appears to be backfiring. "Part of the point we're trying to make with this report is to say 'this force is causing instability by virtue of its brutal conduct,'" she said.

"It's prompting violent reprisals on the street. If really what you're looking for is policing in the sense of the way we understand it, this is not the solution."

A protest in Anshun, Guizhou province in July last year was sparked by reports that local chengguan had beaten a disabled fruit vendor to death, Caixin Online reported. The crowd clashed briefly with city authorities before eventually dispersing.

The middle-aged street vender, who had a false leg, was chased by officers before he was attacked, witnesses reported in microblogs cited by Caixin.

Chinese authorities could not be immediately contacted for a response to the HRW report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT)
Denza announced its electric car would sell for $60,000 earlier this week, but the attractive price might not be enough to convince China's drivers.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 0306 GMT (1106 HKT)
"Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner of the world," read China's first email back in 1987. Today, China dominates the digital world.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 0447 GMT (1247 HKT)
With over 700 million smartphone users, China's mobile market is huge. But sheer numbers aside, what makes it really impressive?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 0257 GMT (1057 HKT)
Despite the Chinese leadership's austerity measures the country's biggest car show opened to much buzz.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0930 GMT (1730 HKT)
CNN's Beijing Bureau Chief, Jaime FlorCruz, remembers when a phone call from a student alerted him to the Tiananmen Square protest
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
CNN's Brian Stelter talks with CCTV correspondent Jim Spellman on how the Chinese media has covered MH370's mystery.
China's economy has bested many others in just the past 10 years.
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 0602 GMT (1402 HKT)
In China, users of the "Life Black Box" website can set up final farewells to their friends in case they suddenly die.
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 0532 GMT (1332 HKT)
A recent university study claims Chinese micro-blogging activity might not be as vibrant as expected.
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1014 GMT (1814 HKT)
Chinese art has been fetching some serious cash -- here's how we can elbow into the market
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
A Shanghainese collector paid $36 million for this tiny cup decorated with chickens.
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 0657 GMT (1457 HKT)
Ben Richardson on corruption in China: a veil of secrecy shrouds the links between power and wealth.
China's economy is slowing and growth in 2014 could fall short of the government's official target, according to a CNNMoney survey of economists.
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is the first foreigner to visit the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning.
April 7, 2014 -- Updated 0126 GMT (0926 HKT)
If the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 caused a rift in China-Malaysia relations, the two countries appear to have put it behind them.
April 4, 2014 -- Updated 0517 GMT (1317 HKT)
Martin Jacques argues that in the twenty-first century, China will challenge our perception of what it is to be modern.
A new survey of university students in China shows where they most want to work. What are the dream employers for Chinese students?
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
What are President Xi Jinping's greatest goals as he visits the EU headquarters in Brussels?
Last year, thousands of Chinese tourists flocked to Yellowstone National Park to view the mountains, the buffalo and Old Faithful.
ADVERTISEMENT