A Chinese court has denied reports that it sentenced 10 people to jail for illegally detaining petitioners in Beijing, state media said on Monday, rejecting the account of what had been seen as a rare move to curb abuses of the law.
A Beijing newspaper reported on Sunday that the capital's Chaoyang district court sentenced 10 people from the poor central province of Henan to up to 18 months in jail for stopping petitioners from the province from airing grievances.
The report said the petitioners had been held in rented houses in a Beijing suburb and beaten.
But the official Xinhua news agency on Monday cited an unnamed court spokesperson denying the report, which had been spread widely on the Internet and published by numerous Chinese state media.
"The spokesman for the court said the news is not true," Xinhua said on its official micro-blog.
"The spokesman confirmed that the court has held a hearing on a case related to officials from a city in Henan, but denied that the judge has declared any verdict," the Xinhua post said.
The court could not be reached immediately for comment.
Petitioning officials has deep roots in China, where courts are seen as beyond the reach of ordinary people. Petitioners often try to take local disputes ranging from land grabs to corruption to higher levels in the country's capital Beijing.
But studies show only small numbers are ever able to resolve their cases through petitioning. In many cases, petitioners are rounded up in Beijing by men hired by provincial authorities to prevent the central government from learning of problems in China's outlying regions.
Despite international criticism, they are often forced home or held in "black jails", unlawful secret detention facilities where detainees can be subjected to beatings, sleep and food deprivation and psychological abuse.