Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Chinese communist regime continues to send contrasting signals regarding reforms, especially those related to human rights and the rule of law. After a month of announcements and denials, today, state media reported statements by a senior government official stating that the controversial system of forced labor camps is expected to be abolished "by the end of 2013." However, such statements were published, and later denied on at least two occasions in January.
The last in order of time was made by Chen Jiping, deputy director of the China Law Society. According to the China Daily, the official newspaper close to the Party, the official was part of a high-level meeting that decided to limit the use of labour camps until the National People's Congress (NPC, the "Chinese Parliament ") meets, the only body able to abolish the whole system of laojiao [re-education through labour -ed.] The meeting is scheduled for March, when the new government headed by Xi Jinping enters into force.
According to Chen, "the system of forced labor camps should be abolished by 2013. It was a useful tool while the Communist Party consolidated its power, but today we have a strong rule of law and therefore no longer needed laojiao . Yet to entirely abolish them the approval of the highest legislative body, which introduced them in 1953, is needed".
Before Meng Jianzhu, Secretary of the Committee for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China. had spoken on the issue of "State gulags" and an open editorial in the People's Daily. Both announcements, however, were later contradicted by other officials who made it clear: a "reform" of the system is under discussion not its abolition.
Born as rehabilitation centres for counter-revolutionaries and common criminals, the laojiao have become over time a tool to silence dissidents and critics of the Communist Party. With a hotly contested reform of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the government has allowed the police to hold any Chinese citizen for three years in labor camps without a judgment of a court of law.
Unofficial estimates say that between 190 thousand to 2 million people are interned in laojiao. The China Daily says that there are approximately 320 laojiao labor camps, where 500 thousand people are locked up, most criminals from the drugs world. In these labor camps - organized as farms or industries - the prisoners have a punishing schedule, up to 12-15 hours, and are given a minimum monthly wage. Here, unofficial Christians, Catholic bishops and priests and members of the Falun Gong sect are detained and still held.