Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Chinese government has started to release pro-democracy dissidents from the "re-education through labor" camps (laojiao). The releases were made ahead of the end of their sentences, but Catholic priests and bishops remain in the communist regime's labor camps. AsiaNews sources have repeatedly stated that, with the reform of the system, they should be allowed home as soon as possible.
On February 9, the government released Xiao Yong, a Hunan activist jailed for demanding the truth about the case of Li Wangyang, the Tiananmnen square dissident who died under suspicious circumstances while he was in hospital. Sentenced to 18 months of forced labor in July 2012, he will serve the remainder of his sentence at home.
The same fate for Mao Hengfeng, one of the best-known dissidents to oppose the terrible one-child law in force in China. The woman was released on 8 February to serve the rest of her 18 months sentence at home, she had been convicted in October 2012.
But the release of dissidents began in January. On 11 January, the government released Hongwei Li - the Shandong "petitioner" - after three months of hard labour who was sentenced to 21 months after an illegal detention in a government "black jails". The "black jails" are hotel rooms or hospital where dissidents - often Catholic religious - are confined without trial.
On January 6 Ma Lijun released, sentenced to 18 months' hard labor for "vandalism against a public place." The woman could have been disabled, because in the course of her detention she was not allowed access to the medical care she needed because of a debilitating disease.
On December 17, 2012, Huang Chengcheng and Dai Yuequan were also released. The first served two years of hard labor for "inciting subversion of state power", while the second (disabled) was released after being sentenced to 15 months for having "abused" the petition system.
These releases - which, however, do not include religious minorities - suggest that the government is seriously considering the possibility of abolishing the system of forced labor in the country. However, the large number of announcements and denials on the subject leaves little hope for now.