Shutter Labor Camp System for Good, Legal Experts Urge

Legal experts have called on the government to follow through with hints at abolishing the country’s notorious system of labor camps.

On January 7, Politburo member Meng Jianzhu said at a top conference that the system would “cease to be used.” His comment was obtained by Caixin through a person who attended the meeting.

Meng said the decision would require approval from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which will meet this spring. But he disappointed some by stopping short of saying the camps should be abolished.

Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University, said “cease” meant police would stop handing down sentences that sent detainees to the camps. “But we don’t know whether there will be other new measures,” he said, “or whether the labor system will be replaced with new legislation.”

Zhang called for the system that allows police to send people to the camps without appearing in court to be abolished, and for courts to be put in charge of who gets sent to jail.

Some rules that support the system could be incorporated into the misdemeanor category of the nation’s Criminal Law, Zhang said, which can lead to a sentence of up to three years in jail. He also pointed out that the Administrative Punishment Law lets police detain suspects for less than two weeks, and this statute was sufficient for providing a means to punish minor violators.

The major obstacle to reform, Zhang said, was that law enforcement officials have come to rely on the camp system, which some refer to as re-education through labor, to maintain social stability.

Ding Jinkun, a lawyer at the DeBund Law Offices in Shanghai, said lawmakers should proceed carefully. “They should listen to public opinion and legal experts, and carry out the process under the scope of the constitution,” Ding said.

The NPC is mulling a draft of the Illegal Acts Discipline Law, which is intended to create a new corrections system. The draft was introduced by the NPC Standing Committee in 2005, but since then has been shelved due to objections raised by the Ministry of Public Security.