02/07/2013, 00.00
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Guangdong and Yunnan announce the abolition of forced labor camps (laojiao)

by Chen Weijun
The two provinces have decided, in the wake of an indication of the central government to close the camps for "re-education through labor". But experts dampen enthusiasm: "Declarations and denials been going on for a month, it is too early to celebrate. And China needs a real rule of law, declarations by communists is not enough. "

Beijing (AsiaNews) - All forms of illegal detention that exist in China "will be lifted only when the government decides to really embrace the rule of law. Statements by communist officials are not enough, though they may be high ranking: we need real awareness and a proper legal system". This is the response of the Chinese Human Rights Defender [CHRD, an international organization for the protection and denunciation of human rights violations in China] to the two Chinese provinces which yesterday announced the abolition of re-education through labour camps (laojiao).

The laojiao are a form of imprisonment since the time of Mao Zedong. Christians, dissidents, members of the falun Gong often end up in these camps. The state newspaper China Daily, cites approximately 320 labor camps laojiao, with 500 thousand inmates, mostly 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 for a minimum monthly wage.

The new communist regime - led by Xi Jinping, leader of the "Fifth Generation" of Chinese leaders - had expressed his intention a month ago to revise this system, which permits sentences of hard labor for up to 3 years even without a court judgment. The last in order of time was Chen Jiping, deputy director of the China Law Society, who on January 20 last spoke of a high-level meeting that "decided to limit the use of labour camps" until the National People's Congress meets (NPC, the "parliament" of China), the only body able to abolish the whole laojiao system.

Before him both Meng Jianzhu, Secretary of the Committee for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China and an open editorial in the People's Daily had spoken on the issue of "lager State". Both declarations, however, were later contradicted by other officials who had made it clear: it was a question of "reforming" the system, not its abolition. After this dance, which lasted about three weeks, the Southern Metropolitan Daily yesterday announced that the province of Yunnan has instead decided to abolish them "now."

The daily (close to the Party line) cites Meng Sutie - Member of the Standing Committee of the CPC Provincial Committee and head of law and policy for Yunnan - defines the decision as "a step of historic importance" in the reform of laojiao. The same article includes a statement from the Director of the Political Department of the wealthy southern province of Guangdong, Yan Zhican, announcing a similar maneuver.

According to Meng "the provincial authorities will not approve more re-education through labor for those who are guilty of three types of crimes: endangering state security, the negligent activity of petitioning and offense to state leaders. For all other cases we will act according to the law. " Citing these three crimes is not random: they are the most frequent reasons that the communist authorities get rid of those who seek to obtain justice through the system of petitions to the central government.

In Guangdong, however, according to Yan, "the labor camps will not take in any more new inmates. Those currently interred will remain until the end of their sentence, but in the end the fields will be used for the treatment of addicts and social rehabilitation."

According to Renee Xia, international director of CHRD, " It's too early to celebrate. Since a central government official's comments were censored, there may very well be inter-Party disagreement and conflicts over the fate of these camps at the top, which cast a shadow on Yunnan or Guangdong's plans to move ahead with changes. There can be no meaningful end to arbitrary detention in a police state that does not respect the rule of law "


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