BEIJING: A police chief has boasted of recruiting one in every 33 local residents as an informant, official media report.

The director of an Inner Mongolian public security bureau said officers had recruited 12,093 of his county's 400,000 inhabitants to provide intelligence, offering an unusual glimpse into the state's surveillance network.

Liu Xingchen told the state news agency Xinhua the priorities were to collect information about conflicts that might lead to complaints to higher authorities and to discover ''non-harmonious elements''.

Experts said it was rare to see information on the numbers of informants or public discussion of the network, although detailed accounts of surveillance work are available in documents intended for internal use.

While China's surveillance network is known to be extensive, it is not clear how active the informants in Kailu County are or how typical the figures are of wider practices.

Mr Liu said all officers had to recruit 20 informants, with those in criminal investigation units finding extra ''eyes and ears''.

In the interview, translated by the news website China Digital Times, he said the bureau had sought to ''dig deep for intelligence information on many fronts, proactively discover non-harmonious elements that affect stability [and try to] evolve from being passive to being active, to go from punishing after the fact to resolving the problem before the fact''.

Mr Liu cited officers who found out that villagers planned to protest to higher authorities and ''dissuaded'' them from doing so.

Although petitioning is legal, officials are under pressure to keep down the number of complainants and often resort to harassment or detention.

Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said police could easily force people to inform, without adding them to the payroll, by threatening their careers. ''Although China's surveillance system is particularly thorough, these [kinds of claims about numbers] seem to be always written from the point of view of security institutions that want to show how professional they are and what incredible resources they have,'' he said.

Joshua Rosenzweig, of Dui Hua, a group seeking better treatment of detainees in China, said police had accelerated the development of intelligence networks from the mid-1990s.

Guardian News & Media