The Women Who Tried to Get Into Labor Camp

2013-04-12
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Petitioners and rights activists protesting after being refused permission to visit the Beijing Municipal Women's Re-education Through Labor Facility, April 12, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Human Rights Campaign in China.

Accounts by a former inmate of torture and inhumane conditions at the Masanjia Women's Re-education Through Labor Facility in the northeastern province of Liaoning have sent shock waves around the Chinese Internet this week, prompting authorities to muzzle any reporting or commentary on the issue.

And a lawyer for Hunan petitioner Tang Hui—who sparked a public outcry against the system after she was sent to labor camp for challenging the prison sentences of men convicted of raping her daughter—confirmed on Friday that her compensation suit had been rejected by a court in Yongzhou.

Meanwhile, a group of rights activists, many of them women, found themselves in the strange position of trying to gain access to a re-education through labor facility in Beijing on Friday, after having been promised a tour of the camp.

According to Henan-based petitioner Wang Jinlan, a group of more than 40 petitioners and rights activists had received permission to visit the Beijing Municipal Women's Re-education Through Labor Facility on its open day.

But when they arrived at the front door, officials refused to let them go any further.

"They wouldn't let us take the tour," Wang told RFA's Cantonese service.

"There were more than a dozen police and government vehicles parked outside the labor camp, and they took away most of the Beijing-based petitioners."

She said the camp management had blamed the cancellation of the guided tour on a problem with the electricity supply.

"They told us we could come back when they'd repaired it, so we waited until the afternoon, but they still said no," Wang said.

"They told us [the open day] ended at 11.00 p.m. and pushed us all outside. They wouldn't let us wait inside."

'Love the People Month'

Wang said the open day was part of "Love the People Month," run by the Beijing municipal ruling Chinese Communist Party's political and legal affairs committee, which had promised to throw open the gates of various law enforcement facilities to the public, including the women's labor camp.

She said the petitioners had all applied in advance to visit the labor camp, and had received approval for the visit on Thursday.

"This was supposed to be about openness and transparency," Wang said. "We could go and see for ourselves. But today, everything changed, and they said the electricity was out. So it works every other day; just not today?"

A second visitor, who gave only her surname Liu, said the group had spent a total of two hours sitting in the entrance hall of the labor camp, arguing the case with management to be allowed inside.

Police had prevented some of them from taking photos, and had escorted those who had strongly resisted home in their cars, she said.

"We demanded that they allow us to visit all of the labor camp, but they just canceled [the open day] right then and there. They said they would arrange for us to visit a drug rehabilitation center instead," Liu said.

"We petitioners tried to argue our case quite strongly, but the police just took us away and escorted us home. I was brought home by my district police station."

Meanwhile, one petitioner and rights activist from Beijing's Fengtai district said she was prevented from leaving home in the first place.

And Shunyi district petitioner Zhang Shufeng said she had been warned by her local police station not to try to visit the labor camp on Thursday.

"Yesterday I never thought I would actually get a phone call saying I was welcome to visit the labor camp [on Friday], and then another one in the evening saying I wasn't allowed to go," Zhang said.

"When I tried to leave my home this morning at 6 o'clock, the police were there, and said they would escort me [to the labor camp], but in fact they took me to the police station, so I didn't get to go."

The second Friday in April has been designated an "Open Day" by the Beijing political and legal affairs committee since 2011, activists said.

Reported by Lin Jing and Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.