China continues rights abuses even as labour camps ditched: Amnesty

China continues rights abuses even as labour camps ditched: Amnesty
People walk outside a labour camp in Kunming, Yunnan province

BEIJING - China is increasingly using extra-judicial "black jails" and drug rehabilitation centres to punish people who would formerly have been sent to forced labour camps, rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

China vowed last month to do away with hundreds of labour camps, as part of a landmark package of social and economic reforms.

Official news agency Xinhua has said there are 350 such camps across the country, with up to 160,000 inmates.

But many of those in extra-judicial jails and rehabilitation centres are being punished for their political or religious beliefs, the London-based rights group said.

"It's clear that the underlying policies of punishing people for their political activities or religious beliefs haven't changed," said Corinna-Barbara Francis, Amnesty's China researcher.

"The abuses and torture are continuing, just in a different way."

China's foreign ministry said on Tuesday that Amnesty is prejudiced against China.

"This group has always had ideological prejudices against China, and continues to make unreasonable criticisms and starts rumours to smear China," said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The camps are part of a controversial programme called re-education through labour that lets police detain political and religious dissidents for up to four years without any judicial process.

Such dissidents include petitioners, government critics, members of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong and petty criminals.

Amnesty, in a report based on more than 60 interviews with families, lawyers and former inmates conducted over five years, found the use of other forms of extra-judicial detention, especially drug rehab facilities, had widened and could supplant the labour camp system.

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