China has announced plans to abolish its “re-education through labor” system.
Adopted in 1957, the system allows the police to send minor offenders to the labor camp such as thieves, prostitutes and drug addicts for up to four years without a trial. Yet many have criticized the system as a tool by local officials to deal with troublemakers who challenge authority.
According to a 2009 report for a United Nations human rights forum, there were 190,000 people imprisoned in China’s labor camps without trail.
In 2012, village official Ren Jianyu was sentenced to two years in a labor camp after posting 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 on Chinese social media.
The decision came after the third plenary meeting, during which the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee meets. While many consider the move a step forward, some lawyers and journalists have shown their concern on Chinese social media over whether it is a true abolishment.
Veteran lawyer Yuan Yulai wrote [zh]:
Detention is a poisonous tree and we’re happy to see it eradicated. But the soil is still there, some kind of variation of the camps will definitely grow out of it. The so-called milestone is purely fictional. Milestones are supposed to be on the road, but there is no constitution on the road, where does this milestone come from?
CEO of Zhongzheng Company Peng Xiangfeng wrote:
Although re-education through labor is abolished, don’t get too excited. After an exchange of ideas between the leaders of the political and legal system, it looks like there are now two counts of light punishment applied to a large number of cases, one is obstruction, the other is causing trouble, but the two, after all, will have to go through the trial court and counsel, which can still be considered progress.
Teacher Li Qidong from Shenyang who was sent to a labor camp for a year because he “disturbed order in the classroom” wrote sarcastically:
When detention was not abolished, they stressed that it was “irreplaceable”; when constitutionalism is not implemented, they always criticize it. These are China's national conditions – there’s always someone standing in the way of reform.
“Southern Weekend” commented [zh]:
There has never been a system that has such an extensive power to infringe on civil liberty. The NPC Standing Committee should not only make a decision in the abolishment, but should also check the constitutionality and legal review of the detention system. Relevant measures for detention reform should be taken. The judiciary should consider how to do justice to the victims’ detention litigation and compensation requirements.
Professor Jiao Hongchang from China University of Political Science and Law wrote [zh]:
The question now is not the abolishment or not, but how to abolish it, at what time, in what way, and how to establish a system to fill the gap after the abolition of the reeducation through labor system.