China's labour camps on last legs

China's labour camps on last legs

A concrete plan for ending a much-criticised programme that has sent hundreds of thousands to labour camps without trial could be unveiled by year end, a move that is set to improve China's image.

More details may be released when the National People's Congress, China's legislature, holds a scheduled meeting next month, reported the Beijing News on Sunday, citing an unnamed Beijing official in charge of labour camps.

The Communist Party had decided at a policy summit last week to do away with the re-education through labour (RTL) programme, which has drawn greater criticism in recent years for being used increasingly as an excuse to lock up petitioners or dissidents.

Public security officials can send people to labour camps without the due process of law.

"These are not legal. They make China a police state," Beijing-based lawyer Pu Zhiqiang told The Straits Times.

In particular, the cases of Chongqing resident Ren Jianyu and Hunan native Tang Hui, both of whom were sent for re-education through labour (laojiao) on dubious grounds, have attracted public sympathy and focused attention in and outside China on the ills of the scheme.

Mr Ren was locked up for 15 months and released only last November for posting online criticism of officials including the then Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai; Ms Tang spent nine days in a labour camp last year for her persistent petitioning of officials to seek justice for the rape of her young daughter.

Started in 1957 to deal with ideological foes of the Communist state, the programme had 60,000 inmates as of last year, according to legal researcher Wang Gongyi. At its peak, there were more than 300,000 people.

There has been talk of ending the much-reviled system since late last year. On Jan 7, Mr Meng Jianzhu, China's top party official in charge of political and legal affairs, said China may end the RTL system this year.

Some provinces, such as Guangdong in the south, stopped sending people to RTL camps earlier this year.

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