China 'to reform' controversial labour camps

State media announces reform to labour camps, contradicting earlier reports of removal of the system entirely.

    Chinese state media has reported that the country will reform its controversial system of forced labour camps this year.

    The state Xinhua news agency's announcement on Monday contradicted earlier media reports, which cited domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu, that said the country would put an end to the the system. 

    "The Chinese government will this year push the reform of its controversial re-education through labour system, according
    to a national political and legal work conference on Monday," Xinhua reported. 

    The "re-education through labour" system, which has been in place since 1957, has allowed authorities to lock up defendants for up to four years without trial. 

    The step toward reform was announced earlier by other news organisations on Monday, citing an unofficial announcement by Meng Jianzhu, head of the Communist Party Politics and Law Committee, to China’s Justice Ministry newspaper. 

    Independent Chinese media had claimed to confirm those reports of scrapping the system entirely and Meng's comments through unidentified sources.

    All those reports were removed from media websites without an explanation. 

    Earlier on Monday, CCTV, the state broadcaster said on its official microblog site said that the "use of the re-education through labour system will end this year, after approval from the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress".

    The National People's Congress is China's parliamentary session, held annually in March. 

    China’s supreme court and other officials declined to comment on the issue.

    Critics of the country's "re-education through labour" system say that it undermines the rule of law is used against political activists. 

    "They should abolish the labour camp system. China already has a legal system with proper procedures, labour camps are too random [...] A party leader can just pick up the phone and someone will be in jail," Guo Xue Hong, a former detainee in one of the camps, told Al Jazeera.

    Guo spent a year in the camp, with the stress of the experience bringing on a stroke that has left him crippled.

    The government says that it operates more than 300 such camps. In 2008, more than 160,000 people were doing time in such facilities.

    "If it can be abolished this year, I think it's an extremely important step toward rule of law," said He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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