Ren Jiayu, a 25-year-old former village official in Chongqing became the focus of the media again after he was released from a labor camp on November 19, 2012 just a few days after the leadership handover at the 18th Party Congress.
Ren was sentenced to two years of “re-education through labour” in August 2011 after he posted messages on microblogs accusing former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai of bringing the Cultural Revolution back to China with his “red songs” campaign. Ren’s case triggered a campaign to end the “re-education through labour” system in Chinese social media. CCTV English channel even ran a panel discussion on reform of the labor re-education system.
On his release, China’s official media Global Times and People’s Daily published commentaries criticizing the unconstitutional system, calling for more freedom of speech. Global Times called Ren’s release “an essential step toward more freedom of speech”. People’s Daily mentioned that the reform of the “re-education through labor” system is currently under discussion by the government.
Following his release, a CCTV documentary programme ran an interview with Ren Jianyu. During the interview, Ren described how the police arrested him and his life in the labor camp:
Thousands of people are posting complains about the government on microblogs everyday, there’s no reason to arrest me for this. I will not withdraw my lawsuits against the re-education through labor committee, I want them to restore my reputation.
In another interview with Beijing news, Ren explained that his confidence in the reform comes from the 18th Party Congress:
I studied the 18th Party Congress report, I found the fifth chapter particularly relevant to me, it says: Promoting political restructuring, promoting governance in accordance with the rule of law and further establishing and completing a system to monitor and supervise power. I was sent to the labor camp without trial mainly because there was no monitoring system to supervise power.
News of Ren’s release together with the CCTV interview went viral on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, with over 1,578,125 comments. Netizens wonder if Ren’s release indicates the potential for a more free and just society.
The abolition of the “labor re-education” system?
Commentator Zhu Wei [zh]wrote:
希望该案能成为一个转折点，此类有疑问的案件都能很快得到复查， 还无辜当事人以自由，对责任方予以追究。同时也希望， 任建宇们所付出的代价，能对劳教制度的改革有所推动。
I hope the release is not only his own victory, but also brings the release of other innocent people. Those decision-makers should be responsible for all of these people. I hope that the case will push substantial reform of the system.
Veteran journalist Fu Jianfeng [zh] responded:
The piece from the People’s Daily is a break from formality. It’s the first time I’ve seen the People’s Daily criticizing the system. Is this a prelude to the abolishment of this nasty law allowing re-education through labor? I hope it is!
Could the new leadership bring the abolition of the “labor re-education” system? Smart politicians wouldn’t miss this chance, let’s wait and see!
More freedom of speech?
Guole Yudan [zh], lecturer at Nankai University, wrote:
可能是新闻工作本色的回归，也可能是因为在重庆重组的时候， 百无禁忌。让双方都说话，是一个亮点，新闻媒体不是法官， 你做判断，解读，不如把双方观点都呈现给大家。 但愿这只是个开始和前奏，而不是昙花一现。
CCTV’s interview with Ren indicates their boldness in reporting sensitive news, which might bring real journalism to China. However, maybe it also has something to do with the current restructuring of Chongqing’s top officials. The dialogue format makes a good platform for the audience themselves to judge and to think. I hope it’s just the beginning of good journalism, not a flash in the pan.
Langlang Jianghu [zh] echoed:
Ren Jianyu is on CCTV, isn’t it a nice surprise? Looks like CCTV has shown some integrity, is the age of free speech really coming?
Laoma Shitu [zh] was also optimistic:
Ren was released due to an ‘improper charge'; a farmer was released after being arrested for kneeling to visit Prime Minister, and the police apologized; the news makes us full of hope for the new leadership.
While Ren’s release brings joy and hope for most netizens in China, some netizens remain skeptical. Xiaokai wrote:
I just saw the news about Ren Jianyu. It looks like he has been ‘harmonized’ by the government, just like a chess piece on the politician’s chess table. How scary!