Labor Camps Under Scrutiny as NPC Opens

While state media reports in January indicated that China’s (laojiao) system would be reformed or even abolished, The Washington Post’s William Wan observes that government officials have backtracked in recent weeks as the obstacles to reform have grown more evident:

A big hurdle, legal experts say, is that authorities have grown dependent on labor camps as an expedient way to silence critics. Police can send people to the camps for up to four years with no judicial process. Citizens have been punished for crimes as trivial as writing an unflattering blog post about a local official. Some prisoners are there because of their religious practice or because they have tried to raise complaints about local injustices to central authorities.

The camps provide what is essentially free labor to state ventures. But critics say the practice has also undermined the government’s claim to abide by rule of law.

“They know it’s bad for China’s abroad and for legitimacy at home,” said Jerome Cohen, a Chinese law expert at New York University.

Even if reality has caught up with reform rhetoric, Didi Kirsten Tatlow of The New York Times reported Monday that delegates to this month’s National People’s Congress were issuing strong calls to end the laojiao system:

“The reeducation-through-labor system to a certain extent makes citizens live in fear,” said Dai Zhongchuan, a delegate and law professor from Huaqiao University in Fujian Province, in a report by, the news portal of the State Council Information Office and the National Internet Information Office.

“Not to go through the courts to decide on a crime is to deprive and limit personal freedoms. Not to take steps to restrict and monitor this can very easily lead to the abuse of power,” said Mr. Dai.

Xinhua News also claimed that lawmakers still recognize the need for reform:

The labor camp system, known as laojiao, was “a disgrace to China’s national image and required urgent reform,” as it runs against the principles of lawful governance and justice which the country pursues, said Yang Weicheng, who is a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC) and lawyer from Shandong Province.

Deng Hui, an NPC deputy and law school dean from Jiangxi Province, said the labor camp system violated various laws, including the Law on Legislation and the Administrative Penalty Law. It’s also a deviation from a human rights convention the Chinese government had signed, he added.

“The reform of laojiao is imminent and inescapable,” Deng said.

See also previous CDT coverage of China’s re-education through labor system.


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