05/21/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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China: "Work camps" constitute detention without trial

Amnesty International and the UN Working Group on forced labour and arbitrary detention charge: more than 300,000 people are detained without trial, tortured and forced to work.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – "Re-education through work" camps – sentencing to forced labour – are a "form of extra-judiciary detention" where people are interned for up to four years without trial, without a lawyer and solely on the decision of the police. Detainees may be beaten and subjected to torture and ill treatment, especially if they refuse to repudiate their "crimes". They are also a reserve of cheap labour.

The charge is made by Amnesty International to mark the launch of a campaign to free Mao Hengfeng, currently detained a re-education camp. The woman, aged around 50, was sacked from her job in a soap factory in Shanghai – her city of origin – in 1988, when she became pregnant with her second daughter. She refused to abort, as stipulated in the Chinese "family planning policy", and so she was locked up in a psychiatric hospital and submitted to electroconvulsive therapy.

After the birth of her second daughter, Maro started to send numerous petitions to the Chinese authorities to denounce her dismissal: she was allowed to return to work in the soap factory, which however filed an appeal again her reinsertion in the High Court of Peking. While she was petitioning the Chinese authorities, Mao became pregnant again, however this time she was forced to abort.

In April 2004, Mao was condemned – without a proper trial – to 18 months of forced labour for "persistent petitioning of the Chinese authorities". In the work camp where she is currently held, close to Shanghai, Mao has been beaten and tortured several times: according to Amnesty International, demonstrations on her behalf by humanitarian organisations have only resulted in intensified torture. Her sentence has been increased by three months because the woman refused to confess to her "wrongdoings".

Set up in the fifties to transform "bad subjects" into "new socialist people", forced labour camps have really become places of annihilation. Protestant pastor, Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, was detained for "illegal religious activity". "Prisoners have no free time to think. They are woken up at 5am and work all day, sometimes until midnight," he said, adding: "The basic idea is to resolve your 'mental problems' through hard physical work."

Chen Pokong, a teacher and democracy campaigner who spent two years in a work camp, said: "We used to carry stones from the shore to the river all day long; at night, we made artificial flowers, seven days a week."

Forced work camps are a vast resource of free labour. Since the times of Deng Xiaoping, they have really and truly become firms where everything is produced: green tea, carbon, medical gloves, optical equipment. According to the UN Working Group on forced labour and arbitrary detention, there are no less than 300,000 people interned in more than 280 camps. Detentions are carried out under the set-up of public security, without trial or defence: convictions affect especially unauthorized religions – tens of thousands of internees belong to Falun Gong – and ethnic minorities like the Uighurs. Also shut up in the camps are drug addicts, prostitutes and mentally ill people, considered as "social threats". (PB)

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