China Has Many Forms of Arbitrary Detention, Lawyers Say

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Young Chinese inmates at a labor camp in Fujian province, in a file photo.
Young Chinese inmates at a labor camp in Fujian province, in a file photo.

Though the ruling Chinese Communist Party has said it will abolish the controversial system of "re-education through labor," China looks set to continue with other forms of extrajudicial detention, rights lawyers warned on Tuesday.

The Party announced last week it will soon abolish the system, under which jail terms of up to four years can be handed down by police-controlled committees without need for a trial, official media reported on Friday.

Now, a group of rights lawyers has launched a fresh campaign against the system, as well as other forms of extrajudicial detention used against people regarded as troublemakers by the authorities.

Lawyers say that even if the system is truly abolished, those who have been detained under it should receive compensation.

"We in the legal profession ... have been campaigning for a long time for the abolition of re-education through labor," Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling said on Tuesday.

"First, the system must be totally abolished, and second, those whose human rights have been violated under this system should receive recognition and compensation," Tang said.

"They can't just say they aren't doing re-education through labor any more, so this is all in the past," he said.

Black jails, 'study centers'

Shandong-based rights lawyer Liu Weiguo, who also signed the petition, said that many other forms of unofficial detention still exist, even if the labor camp system comes to an end.

"There is still the issue of the black jails and the 'legal study centers,'" Liu said, referring to unofficial premises used to hold activists and those who pursue complaints against the government.

"I hope that they will be able to right those wrongs as well, based on the abolition of the re-education through labor system," he said.

"The fact that we have produced this document shows that we are definitely [still] concerned."

Tang said lawyers also fear that a forthcoming Punishments and Corrections Act may seek to legitimize these unofficial detention centers, effectively replacing the labor camp system with a similar system under a different name.

"We want to point out to the Chinese Communist Party that it should guard against damaging human rights with its legislation and relevant administrative guidelines," he said.

"We also want to remind the public that there are still a lot of measures that look a lot like re-education through labor ... which involve illegal measures like extrajudicial detentions by the government," Tang said.

'Receiving education'

Beijing-based lawyer Chen Yongfu agreed.

"I want to remind people not to focus solely on re-education through labor, because there is also a thing called 'being educated' under an administrative rule passed by the State Council," Chen said.

"The average sentence to 'receive education' in Beijing is currently six months," he said. "It is aimed at prostitution."

He said the public's next focus should be on abolishing the 'receiving education' system. "Otherwise, there will be no protection for the freedom of the person."

He said that the longest sentences under the anti-prostitution 'education' system could be two to three years, and that these are currently administered by the police, much like the labor camp system.

He said police would also retain the power to impose administrative detention of up to 15 days for minor offenses without trial.

"This comes under article 69 of the Public Security Administrative Punishments Law," Chen said.

"The highest punishment is a 5,000 yuan fine and 15 days' detention," he said.

China has vowed to reform its controversial "re-education through labor" system of administrative punishments following a prolonged campaign by lawyers, former inmates, and rights activists to abolish it.

Lawyers argue that the system has no basis in China's current law, is a holdover from the political turmoil and kangaroo courts of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and is a long-running violation of citizens' rights.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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