Chinese Cities Testing Labor Camp Reform

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It’s a penal system that requires no courts. Instead, China’s police can send someone to a labor camp for up to four years with no judicial process. There, individuals usually end up as slave labor, making dirt-cheap goods for China’s export economy.

Now, after recent uproar against China’s “re-education through labor” (laojiao) system, authorities are taking another look. On Monday, state-run China National Radio reported that four cities across the country are testing a system to replace labor camps. It’s called “education and correction of violations.” It’s being rolled out in Gansu, Shandong, Jiangsu and Henan provinces.

Beijing News quoted a law professor involved in designing the trial as saying the system would be, quote, “ smaller scale with more reasonable procedures”, than the current system.

But what will specifically change is unclear. Authorities will continue to focus on “educating” and re-assimilating back to society those individuals who have broken the law. And administration of the trial system will still remain with the Public Security Bureau.

Beijing-based human rights lawyer Tang Jitian believes the new measures don’t address the problems of the current labor camp system.

[Tang Jitian, Beijing-based Human Rights Lawyer]:
“Fundamentally, this system—which is like a malignant tumor in the legal system—should be completely removed. It should not just be given some conservative treatment.”

Earlier this month, several Chinese lawyers launched an online campaign to call for an end to the labor camp system. It follows reports of a mother who was sent to a labor camp for petitioning for an investigation into the rape and forced prostitution of her underage daughter. The mother, Tang Hui, was released after an internet outcry.

Mao Zedong launched China’s re-education through labor system in 1957 as a form of political control. In the 1980s, authorities revamped the system to also punish petty crimes. Critics of the system say it violates China’s own constitution, and has become an arbitrary tool for power-wielding police to suppress dissent.

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