Drug trafficking, economic crimes reason behind recent increase in foreign prisoners in Beijing

By Nona Tepper, September 28, 2014

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Incidents such as Beijing's 2 Kolegas drug bust this August, the drug crackdown that led to 30 foreign nationals arrested this May or American James Chen's marijuana arrest, deportation and eventual ban from China in 2012, might make it seem like foreigner incarceration is on the rise in Beijing, but research by Dui Hua indicates that, historically, the surge in foreigner arrests dates back to more than five years. 

Between 2006 and 2010, foreign citizens imprisoned almost quintupled to 232 prisoners, or 1.8 percent of the total prisoner population, according to volumes of the Beijing Prison yearbook. The number of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau "compatriot" residents also rose to 68 prisoners, a 170 percent increase. The number of countries with citizens incarcerated in Beijing rose from 22 to 53 during this time period, and the most common charges were drug trafficking or "economic crimes," such as smuggling.

African and South Asian countries, specifically Nigeria and Pakistan, saw the biggest increase in individuals incarcerated. The number of African prisoners rose from just nine in 2006 to 121 in 2010, now accounting for more than half of Beijing's foreign prisoner population.

Drug trafficking is the primary reason for the uptick in Pakistani and Nigerian residents. According to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, China arrested 1,559 drug traffickers from 50 different countries in 2009. The previous year foreign drug traffickers arrested in China were primarily from Burma, Pakistan, Nigeria, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Police also frequently report the involvement of Nigerians in trafficking Afghan heroin from Kazakhstan, the report said. 

Of the 232 foreign citizens in Beijing prisons at the end of 2010, 184 were men and 48- a striking 21 percent- were women, who typically account for two to 10 percent of national prison populations. Most men are incarcerated at Beijing No. 2 Prison, and women are sent to Beijing Women's Prison. All foreign nationals are housed in separate cell blocks, including those from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. 

Managing foreigners often poses challenges to the Beijing Prison Administration Bureau. A 2008 report by China's Ministry of Justice said language and healthcare were the two biggest problems facing the foreigner management. These and other issues cause tension, and disciplinary actions are sometimes taken. A group of 10 foreign citizens who allegedly "pose(d) management problems" was transfered from Beijing to prisons in Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Jilin in 2010. 

Nationwide, there are more than 6,000 foreign nationals in Chinese prisoners. But, this number does not include individuals detained awaiting trial. This statistic is unavailable, but the number of individuals shuffling and shifting between these detention centers is estimated to be thousands. 


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