China’s Ban on Labor Camps
Following days of confusion after the Chinese government announced plans to reform its policy of “re-education through labor,” the state-owned newspaper China Daily stated on Monday that the labor camps are expected to be “abolished” this year.
It is about time China stamped out this barbaric system, first started in 1957 under Mao Zedong. But it’s too soon to rejoice: the Chinese Communist Party will no doubt find other ways to lock up the dissidents and troublemakers who challenge it. It already has.
Under the current labor camp system — known as laojiao in Mandarin — the Chinese police can intern people without trial for up to four years. At the end of 2008, 160,000 Chinese people were held in 350 such camps. In October, the Ministry of Justice put the figure at 60,000. The prisoners typically include petitioners but also prostitutes, drug users and people who simply find themselves standing in the way of the authorities. Torture and other abuse occur routinely.
Driving the change in policy seems to be growing public outrage on the Internet, especially on microblogs. Indignation went viral over a few cases last year involving people sentenced for minor offenses.