12/12/2007, 00.00
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Chinese academics call for the abolition of the laogai, prison without trial

In a letter to the National People’s Congress and the Council of State, a group of Chinese scholars calls for the abolition of the ‘re-education through labour’ system. Established by Mao to deal with his adversaries, the system is now used by local authorities against anyone who might trouble them. For experts there is no social stability without justice.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In an open letter to the National People's Congress (NPC) and the State Council 69 Chinese academics have called for the immediate abolition of the controversial laogai or "education through labour" system because it is unconstitutional. Under the system introduced by Mao Zedong in 1957 to purge rightwing dissidents and liberal intellectuals the police can arrest and detain for up to four years anyone deemed a petty criminal without due process. Nowadays, it is often used by local officials to crack down on petitioners trying to have their grievances heard by higher authorities.

The system was at the centre of a heated debate in September after it was revealed that a farmer in Henan province had been forced into an education-through-labour camp in Luoyang for two years even though the prosecutor's office cleared him of charges of vandalising public property.

In March state news agency Xinhua reported that the NPC wanted to review the system but only to reduce detention without trail to “only” 18 months.

One of those who signed the letter, economics professor Mao Yushi, was condemned as a rightist five decades ago.  He told the South China Morning Post that this system violates fundamental human rights since it leads to “wrongful convictions because of a lack of due justice such as representation by a defence lawyer.”

Beijing Institute of Technology economics professor Hu Xingdou, who signed the letter, said there is widespread consensus on the issue and that “without justice, there's no real social stability we can cherish.”

“The rule of law,” he explained, “is a prerequisite” to build a “harmonious society.”

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