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US-based human rights NGO Human Rights Watch released a report in early May stating that "there are serious problems in the Chinese Communist Party's Chengguan system which need to be urgently solved". This has been followed up on May 23rd with a 76-page report, which goes into greater detail on the range of human rights abuses associated with the Chengguan system.
Officially, the Chengguan, or City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau, is defined as an auxiliary police agency which manages the execution of civil laws or regulations in urban areas. Yet despite not handling criminal matters, the unit has rapidly gained a reputation for severe abuses since its inception in 1997. The separately-run Chengguan are often seen as a tool of local officials, who can use them at will to suppress dissent or accomplish other political tasks.
There are thousands of officers working for the agency, in 656 Chinese cities. Human Rights Watch's report records dozens of cases in which Chengguan have allegedly violated human rights by illegally detaining or beating victims.
Often victims are street vendors or those with similar work. These are favored targets for harassment and extortion by Chengguan officials. Some of the listed victims told HRW that it is quite normal for them to be physically beaten, while some of them were extralegally arrested or had arbitrary fines imposed.
Chinese lawyer Li Tiantian points out that, aside from these violations, even the Chengguan's very management of street vendors and the like is outside the framework of Chinese law.
[Li Tiantian, Chinese Attorney]:
"There's no law to authorize any department, organization or individual to manage the street vendors. Without any law to enforce, in fact any kind of such management is illegal."