End to China labour camps cheered – but what next?

End to China labour camps cheered – but what next?
This picture dated June 12, 1986, shows the "Re-education through labour" camp of Tuanhe near Beijing.

BEIJING - Stripped naked and beaten, Peng Hong's memories of his time in a Chinese "re-education" labour camp are dark - but even so, he greeted Beijing's abolition of the widely-loathed system with only cautious optimism.

The closure announcement came in a package of reform pledges by the ruling Communist Party three days after a key gathering called the Third Plenum, and one year after new leaders under Xi Jinping took power.

But as with other sweeping pledges revealed late Friday - including changes to the one-child policy, farmland ownership rules, and access to urban social services - implementation will be key.

"Abolishing it is better than not abolishing it," former prisoner Peng, 38, told AFP by phone. "I am cautiously optimistic."

Under "re-education through labour" citizens could be sentenced to labour camp for up to four years by a police panel, without appearing before a judge.

The system - introduced in 1957 to deal with minor offenders faster - became rife with abuse.

Some local officials used it to silence "petitioners" seeking to complain about them to higher-level governments, along with others perceived as undermining the ruling party's control on power.

Peng was sentenced to two years in 2009 after forwarding a cartoon online mocking a crime crackdown launched by Bo Xilai, the then-powerful head of his southwestern hometown of Chongqing.

Police visited him one evening and six days later he was standing naked and bent over before stick-wielding guards who beat anyone who looked up. His only daughter was born five months into his term, with family visits just every few months.

"I have very bad memories from that time," Peng said. "If I go back and think about it then my whole mood changes, those times were so dark."

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