03/02/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Human rights groups doubt ‘laojiao’ abolished

Changes to the system of ‘re-education through labour’ and prison without trial will help minor offenders, not political and religious prisoners. Even then, proposed reform remains in doubt.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's move to reform its re-education through labour system is good news for minor offenders, but human rights groups doubt whether political and religious dissidents will benefit, this according to various organisations fighting for human rights in China.

The law will replace the laojiao system and its three types of re-education practices, Xinhua reports. According to the state-run news agency the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee is set to discuss new legislation on the "Correction of Illegal Acts" in October to replace the 1955 law.

Under the current system police are empowered to put all kinds of minor offenders, or people believed to be a risk to social stability, into laojiao centres to serve a maximum term of four years of forced labour without going through judicial procedures.

Under the proposed law, the maximum penalty is expected to be reduced to 18 months and a judicial review by a court can take place after the punishment is imposed, Xinhua said.

There are no official statistics on the mainland's laojiao population, but the China Labour Bulletin—a labour rights watchdog—estimates that there are more than 300,000 detainees at laojiao centres.

“If the law is submitted to the NPC Standing Committee, it means the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice have reached an agreement,” said Prof Fu Hualing, a mainland criminal law specialist at the University of Hong Kong. “The public security ministry had opposed [the changes] because it would lose the power it has enjoyed for so long.”

Kan Hung-cheung, a Hong Kong-based spokesman for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement (persecuted by the authorities on account of its ‘evil’ nature), said he did not believe the new law would help much religious believers who do not submit to state control.

Bruce van Voorhis, the Asian Human Rights Commission's communications officer, said he also suspected the law might only apply to minor offenders.

“[T]he re-education through labour system covers a lot of political prisoners,” he said. “It remains to be seen how this [new rule] will be implemented. It is one thing to have something in paper or even in the constitution. But how will it be actually implemented?”

Mark Allison, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International, said the organisation welcomed reform, but doubted China's sincerity when it came to abolishing laojiao.

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