China’s hugely controversial “re-education through labor” camps are set to be abolished this year, state media yesterday quoted a senior legal official as saying.
It is another signal that the widely criticized system — where people can be sentenced to up to four years’ “re-education” by a police panel, without an open trial — is coming to an end.
The comments come after the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) new leader, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), said the party recognized as a “pressing problem” that it was “out of touch with the people.”
About 60,000 people are detained in the camps, officials say, most of whom serve sentences from six months to a year.
Opponents say the camps are used to silence government critics and would-be petitioners who seek to bring their complaints against officials to higher authorities.
Earlier this month, reports emerged briefly that the system — known as laojiao (勞教) — would be abolished. However, they were swiftly deleted and replaced with predictions of reforms, with few details and no timetable.
Chen Jiping (陳冀平), deputy director of the China Law Society, was quoted by the China Daily as saying that a key meeting had agreed to limit use of the system until it could be scrapped by China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress.
“Ending the system requires the approval of the top legislature which originally endorsed laojiao in 1957,” the paper said.
The annual session of the congress is due to be held in March.
Currently, people sentenced are forced to perform manual labor, such as farm or factory work, but do not receive a criminal conviction.
Authorities will need to replace it with alternative punishments for those accused of petty offenses, the paper added.
“Chen’s remarks suggest offenders are likely instead to get a court hearing, short-term detention or a fine,” the newspaper said, citing “experts.”
The scheme has faced growing criticism for being open to abuse and widespread public anger has erupted over sentences deemed too harsh.
In a case that shocked the nation, Tang Hui (唐慧), a mother whose 11-year-old daughter was abducted, raped and forced into prostitution, was sentenced to 18 months of laojiao after she demanded death penalties for seven men convicted in the case.
The 40-year-old also accused two police officers in her home city of Yongzhou, Hunan Province, of being complicit in the crime.
She was released within a week following public outrage.
Party officials visited Tang on Friday as part of an investigation into the decision to punish her.
She is claiming compensation for her ordeal.
Earlier this month, the official microblog of the CCTV state news channel quoted Meng Jianzhu (孟建柱), a member of the powerful 25-strong Politburo who oversees politics and legal affairs, as saying that China would stop using the system.
The reports were quickly removed, but the following day, the China Daily said the government “will push reforms.”