BEIJING: China’s hugely controversial “re-education” labour 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 criticised 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 Communist Party’s new leader Xi Jinping said the party recognised 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 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 — would be abolished. But they were swiftly deleted and replaced with predictions of reforms, with few details and no timetable.
Chen Jiping, Deputy Director of the China Law Society, was quoted by the China Daily as saying that a key meeting had agreed tightly to limit use of the system until it could be scrapped by China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
It added in reported speech that he described laojiao as having “made its contribution at a time when the Communist Party of China was consolidating the republic and rectifying social order, but now China has well-established legal systems”.
“Ending the system requires the approval of the top legislature which originally endorsed laojiao in 1957,” the paper said. The annual session of the NPC is due to be held in March.
Currently, people sentenced under the laojiao system are forced to perform manual labour 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 offences, the paper added.