Chinese state media have quoted a senior official as saying Beijing has decided to scrap its decades-old system of detaining people in forced labor camps – a practice long criticized by rights groups.
In a brief report last week, television network CCTV’s microblog quoted Politburo member Meng Jianzhu as saying China will stop using the “re-education through labor” system this year, after the nation’s rubber-stamp parliament approves the decision. It said Meng made the comment earlier in the day at a meeting of the political and legal department that he heads.
China’s official Xinhua news agency re-published the CCTV report before it was removed from both the Xinhua and CCTV websites several hours later without explanation. Chinese authorities often order the removal of Internet content that they fear could encourage dissent against the government. .
Xinhua later published a report saying the Chinese government is committed to “reforming” the labor camp system this year under the leadership of its new Communist Party chief Xi Jinping. No other details were provided.
The London-based rights group Amnesty International said the scrapping of Chinese labor camps would be a “step in the right direction.” But the group’s East Asia analyst Roseann Rife said Beijing should provide more detail about the reforms and open them to public debate.
“The danger is the authorities’ rhetoric creates a veneer of reform without the reality changing for hundreds of thousands of people detained in such facilities, nor is it clear that any new system will meet international standards,” she said.
Xinhua said China had 350 labor camps housing 160,000 detainees in 2008. Chinese authorities use the camps to detain prostitutes, drug addicts and other petty criminals for up to four years without putting them on trial in the country’s overloaded courts. Opponents of the system say Beijing also uses it to silence government critics and dissidents.
Amnesty said China’s labor camps subject people to “endemic” torture and ill-treatment and should be abolished. It said detainees who suffered abuse also should be provided with a “genuine chance for redress.”
In its report last week, Xinhua acknowledged growing public criticism of the labor camps. It cited two recent cases in which authorities apparently abused the system to lock up a village official who criticized the government and a woman who demanded tougher penalties for the men convicted of raping her 11-year old daughter.
Xinhua also said “leading experts” believe the labor camps contradict high-level laws, including China’s constitution.”