Jan 07 2013

USA Today: China promises change to labor camp system

BEIJING – China’s top law enforcement official said Monday that the Communist government is preparing to soften its much-criticized system of labor camps, a decades-old form of punishment in which people can be imprisoned for up to four years without trial.

Meng Jianzhu said at a national political and legal work conference that China will end its use of “re-education through labor” this year though he declined to give specifics. The system has long been denounced by Chinese rights lawyers and foreign nations including the United States as a way to silence political dissidents.

Petty criminals are also subjected to forced labor, often in poor conditions.

Meng’s announcement is “good news and the result of concerted effort of activists and opinion leaders in and outside China for many years that the system should be changed,” said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.

But, “The word ‘reform’ is tricky as it’s unclear what reform it will be.”

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