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NPC plans to abolish labor camps
Li Fei

An economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology has proposed abolishing China’s "Re-Education through Labor" system (labor camp system). During the National People’s Congress of 2004, 420 members of the committee signed a motion to abolish this system, which has been practiced for half a century. The labor camp system was introduced by the Soviet Union in 1957. The system is not based on law, but on administrative regulations. Suspects are forced into labor camps to “re-educate” them without a trial. The system is a powerful way for authorities to punish people and restrict their freedom for any number of reasons.

Prof. Hu Xingdou has worked hard to abolish labor camps. He called the system “an evil policy that is condemned by all people.” He revealed in an essay that more than 3.5 million people were sent to labor camps since 1957. The Central Government recently put a stop to extended sentences, but throughout China, many cases in which there was insufficient or no evidence resulted in labor camp sentences of three years. Prof. Hu stated that facts prove that the labor camp system has become a tool for wrongdoing in the hands of some officials.

“I always hope that through my efforts more citizens can understand and show concern about this problem of forced labor camps,” he said.

In the proposal he handed over to the National People’s Congress, Prof. Hu said that the rules in the labor camp system violate China’s Constitution and other legislation and judicial guidelines.

According to Article 37 of China’s Constitution: “The personal freedom of citizens of the People's Republic of China is inviolable. No citizen may be arrested except with the approval or by decision of an official of the People's Procuratorate or by decision of a people's court, and arrests must be made by a public security organ.” However, labor camp officials have arrested citizens and sentenced them to three or four years without going through a proper court procedure.

The labor camp system also violates international agreements to which China is a signatory. In October 1998, the Chinese government signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). According to ICCPR 9: “1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.” ICCPR 8 states: “3. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labor.” To conform to ICCPR conventions, only through a court trial can the decision of long-term deprivation of personal freedom and forced labor be made.

Critics of the labor camp system point to clear examples of misuse. After expending considerable energy and money, one police station eagerly announced its success in solving a difficult case. They discovered afterwards that they had caught the wrong person. In order to cover up mishandling of the case, the innocent person was sent to a labor camp. Some police departments, unable to solve complicated cases without clear evidence during the time allowed to hold a suspect, simply sent the suspect to a labor camp. Many people prohibited by law from detention have been sent to labor camps, including the mentally ill, disabled, the severely ill, pregnant women and nursing mothers. Officials sometimes bend the law to send those they dislike, those who make complaints, those who appeal for their rights, those who write articles exposing corruption, and Falun Gong practitioners to labor camps.

Official Chinese Media Reports Labor Camp Case

The scope of problems with China’s labor camp system is revealed in news reports from official media. XinghuaNet recently reported that 15-year-old Jia Ruoyu, of Shuozhou city, once a lively youth with good health returned from three months of labor camp cut and bruised. He was insane and could not even recognize his parents. Jia Ruoyu’s mother has been unable to leave her bed since the incident.

Guo Guangyun, once a fighter for anti-corruption from Hubei province, was charged with “slandering prime leaders of the province” and “the anti-Cheng Weigao group.” There was no evidence yet he was sentenced to two years detention in a labor camp.

Shenyang citizen, Zhou Wei, was sentenced to two years in a labor camp for reporting the corruption of former Shenyang Deputy Mayor, Ma Xiangdong. The former mayor of Shenyang, Mu Suixin, also sent the person who reported Ma’s corruption to a labor camp.

The elected cadre of a Hubei province village, Yu Nanfang, was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in a labor camp because she appealed corruption of the former village cadre and reported the illegal increase in farmers’ taxes. In addition, Yu was accused of organizing a criminal gang to protest social problems.

Several labor camp deaths have been reported. From 1959 to 1961, the Jiabiango labor camp in Gansu province’s Jiuquan city incarcerated more than 3,000 right-wing Party members who were severely persecuted during the Cultural Revolution; nearly 2000 died.

Representatives of the National People's Congress also question the labor camp system.

Chinese Newsweek reported that during the 10th National People’s Congress in March 2004, the representatives brought forward a total of 1,374 bills. Among those bills were a total of 13 bills about abolishing the Chinese system of labor education and rehabilitation. Although these 13 bills were less than 1% of the total bills presented, a total of 420 representatives signed them. This was more than 10% of the 2,984 representatives. All those bills passed through the Presidium of the conference and were submitted to the Committee of Laws.

Professor Ma Huaide of the Chinese Politics and Law Academy believes there were two main reasons for the increase in NPC representatives who voted to rid the Chinese system of labor education and rehabilitation. One was that the Chinese government abolished the “statutes of accepting and shipping off the floating population.” This showed the determination of the Chinese government to respect and safeguard human rights. This increased the representatives’ confidence and reinforced their desire to reform the labor system. The other reason Prof. Ma points to is that human rights have been written into the Chinese Constitution. The representatives paid more attention to the problems of safeguarding the freedoms of individuals and putting the Chinese Constitution into effect.

A representative from Anhui Province, Mr. Xu Jinglong, told Chinese Newsweek that he really started to pay attention to the problem of labor camps last spring when the State Department abolished the statutes. “I started to notice there were incongruities between the current bylaws and the constitution.” Xu researched the problem and at the 2004 conferences of the National People’s Congress, he submitted bills to reconcile the differences.

Chinese police are angered by efforts to abolish the labor camp system

According to the South Metropolitan Daily, on July 28th, the standing committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress started to annul the system of labor education. On the morning of the 27th, the standing committee’s survey team began researching the administration of public security legislation in Guangzhou City. They sought the opinions of the local police and the legal community.

The proposal to abolish labor camps brought a negative reaction from local authorities and police. The standing committee reportedly plans to rectify the legislation over the next five years. An expert close to the legislation department revealed that the National People’s Congress, the Court, the Procurator and some experts have reached a common understanding on the reform of the Chinese labor camp system. However, the most resistance came from the police department.

“After all, it’s the police department that holds the power to restrict personal freedoms. It is not easy for them to give up this advantage,” experts say.

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