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China Reviews “re-education through labour” Law

Posted by Author on March 2, 2007

By Clifford Coonan, Independent, UK, 1 Mar 2007-

China’s infamous “re-education through labour” system, which allows the police to jail everyone from political dissidents to drug addicts and prostitutes for up to four years without going through the courts, may be scrapped soon as part of the country’s efforts to reform its legal system.

“Initially a relatively mild suppression of counter-revolutionary activities, “laojiao” (re-education through labour) served as a useful way to punish dissent,” the China Daily reported.

The system gives police the power to sentence a person guilty of minor offences such as petty theft or prostitution to up to four years’ in jail without trial. There are 310 “re-education centres” around the country and around 400,000 people have been imprisoned in the 50 years since the rules were introduced.

Sentences are typically one or two years and detainees are required to carry out penal labour.

The proposal is the latest in a series of efforts to reform China’s legal system. China is aware that next year’s Olympic Games will bring the attention of the world to bear on its human rights record and the government is also keen to stop the potentially destabilising effects of calls for judicial reform.

Central to the debate is the issue about who decides on China’s judicial system – the courts or the public security apparatus.

Under the current “lanjiao” system, there is no judicial review at all until the punishment has been imposed. The police say it is a useful way of controlling petty crime and rehabilitating drug addicts, and also simplifies the process of investigative detention.

The reform is a limited one. While Beijing may abolish re-education through labour, it retains a labour camp system known as “reform through labour”, or laogai, where political activists have also been imprisoned.

The proposal is one of 20 laws and amendments to be discussed at China’s annual parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which starts its meeting next week.

Critics within China say the system undermines the rule of law. Human rights campaigners, including the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, have argued for years that re-education through labour should be abolished, saying it targets political activists, ethnic minorities and religious believers and allows for the inhuman and degrading treatment of political prisoners.

Others say that dissidents are much less harshly treated in the re-education through labour centres than in full prisons and the sentences are generally shorter.

The plan would rename the re-education centres as correctional centres, and bars and gates will be taken away. The new centres will be more school-like, the reformers say, and the incarceration period will also be shortened to less than 18 months, depending on the offence.

Wang Gongyi, vice-director of a judicial research insistute attached to the Ministry of Justice, is one of the legal experts trying to draft the new law abolishing re-education through labour.

China’s Supreme People’s Court backs making detention decisions a matter for the courts and legal experts describe the proposed rule change as “a concrete step to protect human rights as endowed by the Constitution”.

The Ministry of Public Security wants to keep the current proposes to maintain the current practice.

Earlier this year, China’s most senior security official, Luo Gan, wrote in the Communist Party’s leading journal that the system should be advanced, not scrapped.

original report from the Independent

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