02/05/2009, 00.00
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Human rights in China: UN should push for abolition of labor camps, arbitrary detentions

Christians, Muslims, members of Falun Gong, prostitutes, drug users suffer up to 4 years of forced labor without any charges or trial. Torture, beatings, humiliations, health risks are the order of the day. Beijing under UN review February 9 and 11 in Geneva.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The association Chinese Human Rights Defenders is asking the UN Human Rights Council to force China not to carry out arbitrary detentions, which see millions of Chinese workers subjected to forced labor, without any charges or trial. The request has been made on the occasion of the human rights review that China will have to undergo February 9 and 11 in Geneva, at the offices of the UN body. For the occasion, the CHRD has also published an extensive report with data, numbers, and testimonies on the situation.

The 64-page document demonstrates that every year, hundreds of thousands of Chinese are confined to forced labor camps, without any charges, trial, or appeal, making China the world leader in arbitrary detentions. The "reeducation through work (laodong jiaoyang)" system allows the police to sentence a person to up to 4 years of detention for "minor crimes." These include drug use and prostitution, but also presenting petitions, defending human rights, being a member of an illegal religious community, like the underground Christian communities, Muslim communities, the Falun Gong.

"Reeducation through work" is parallel to the system of the "laogai," reform through work. The only difference is that one must be formally sentenced to the laogai. "Reeducation" is, instead, an "administrative" matter, handled by the police force.

The situation in the laogai and the laojiao is similar in every way. From the testimonies gathered by the CHRD, a picture emerges of daily suffering for the detainees: torture; beatings on the part of policemen or kapos (other detainees instructed by the guards); up to 20 hours of work per day; withholding of their miserable salaries; dangerous working conditions, because of the use of toxic substances; insufficient food; complete lack of sanitation; medical care only in cases of emergency; prohibition of visits from family members.

The testimonies cited include that of Li Guirong, a 51-year-old woman who spent two years of forced labor in Jilin for presenting petitions in Beijing. She recounts that she was subjected to torture for days: she was stripped naked and hung upside down from chains; a stiff rubber tube was inserted through her nose down to her stomach; they stuck 30 needles connected to electrical wires into her legs: "I was perspiring profusely when the large electric current flowed into my heart, such pain is worse than death."

Zhang Cuiping, who spent two and a half years in a labor camp in Shanghai, recounts that "In order to meet the quota, we had to work so hard our fingers became coarse and swollen, with little blisters on top of our big blisters. Some detainees' hands were covered in blood, some hurt so bad they couldn't sleep at night. Each week we could only rest for one day, and even then we still had to clean the workshop."

The CHRD notes the irony of the fact that China just recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of its economic reforms, and its leaders praised the "remarkable progress in the improvement of its legal system." In reality, the system of the laojiao is a violation of human rights and of the Chinese constitution itself.

Over the past 20 years, many of the intellectuals in government think tanks have asked for a review of reeducation through work. Pressure for abolition is also increasing in civil society. A few of the members of the Chinese parliament have tried to propose abolition, but with no result.

The Chinese government is not releasing any information on the prison population or the population of the labor camps. Even the UN and nongovernmental organizations often do not have updated numbers. The Laogai Foundation, which publishes reliable statistics each year, says that in June of 2008 there were 319 camps for the laojiao, with a population of between 500,000 and 2 million. Of these, about 10% are political prisoners.

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