News / Asia

Activists Skeptical of China's Announced Labor Camp Reforms

Falun Gong practitioners watch a video about a solar eclipse, part of deprogramming efforts enforced at the Masanjia Reeducation-through-labor camp in northeast China's Liaoning province. (file photo)
Falun Gong practitioners watch a video about a solar eclipse, part of deprogramming efforts enforced at the Masanjia Reeducation-through-labor camp in northeast China's Liaoning province. (file photo)
Purnell Murdock
For two years, from 2001 to 2003, Huang Bo spent long, arduous hours in forced manual labor in China.  His nimble fingers, steady and precise from years of work as a surgeon in Shanghai, weaved strings of Christmas lights, stuffed toy animals, wrapped Christmas gifts and performed any other menial task demanded as part of his "re-education" in a Chinese labor camp.  His crime:  being a follower of the Falun Gong meditation movement banned as a cult in the late 1990's.

The conditions were uncomfortable, at best.  "The first two or three months I was forced to do those kinds of things everyday because they want you to know the rules," said Huang.  "But actually it was just an excuse.  They just wanted to torture me to make me give up Falungong.  If you give up [your beliefs] sometimes you can have rice and enough sleep.  But if you don't give up, you can do these kinds of things every day for months."

Punishment, Huang said, was often severe.  "There was a guy who tried to write down [pass along] information in a packing box.  He was caught and had been given electrical shock until he could not urine or stool.  The police let all the people know about this.  They think it is a lesson that would stop anyone trying to do the same thing," he said.

He was not alone.  Chinese authorities have used the re-education centers to detain prostitutes, drug addicts and other petty criminals, sometimes for as long as four years, without putting them on trial in the country's overloaded court system.  Opponents of the system say Beijing also has used them to silence government critics and dissidents.

System goes back to 1950s

China this week said it was committed to reforming the re-education through labor system that was established in the 1950s, a time, according to the official Xinhua news agency, when the Communist Party of China was consolidating the newly founded republic and rectifying social order.

Xinhua says the system was modified to include more regulations from the end of the 1970s to the early 1980s, but many experts believe it contradicts higher-level laws, including the Constitution.  To accommodate social and economic changes that have taken place in China, the constitution was amended to emphasize the protection of human rights and citizens' private property, says Xinhua.

China's official media say more than 300,000 detainees were kept in hundreds of re-education centers. 

In a brief report Monday, television network CCTV's microblog quoted Meng Jianzhu, head of the Communist Party Politics and Law Committee, as saying China will stop using the "re-education through labor" system this year, after the nation's parliament approves the decision.  But details, such as what would become of existing camps and their current inmates, remain unclear.

Skepticism

"China has been talking about reforming the system for many years.  So talk of reform is not new," said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based analyst for the international rights group, Human Rights Watch.  "What we are afraid of is that the Chinese government is replacing the "re-education through labor" system with another administrative detention system."

"There has been discussion of pilot reform projects that were carried out starting last year.  They're being named illegal behavior correction projects.  We don't know anything about them," said Roseann Rife, East Asia Director for Amnesty International in Hong Kong.  She said it is not clear if such a revised system will provide a fair hearing or a chance for people to defend themselves.

If Beijing implements its plans, analysts say it would be a key step in reforming China's judicial system and its human rights image.  Some say ending labor camp sentences could be an indication of new Chinese leader Xi Jinping's desire to carry out moderate political and legal reforms that had largely stalled under predecessor Hu Jintao.  Since his rise to the leadership of the Communist party in November, Xi has called for further crackdowns on corruption and government extravagance and strengthening of the legal system.

"It very well could be," said Rife. "The danger is that it is simply an attempt to appear to be addressing these issues, appear to be implementing rule of law and human rights protections.  But it all comes down to implementation and are things really going to change for people on the ground?"

'Endemic' torture

Amnesty International says China's labor camps subject people to "endemic" torture and ill-treatment and should be abolished.  It says detainees who suffered abuse also should be provided with a "genuine chance for redress."

In a report Monday, the official Xinhua news agency acknowledged growing public criticism of the labor camps.  It cited two recent cases in which authorities apparently abused the system to lock up a village official who criticized the government and a  woman who demanded tougher penalties for the men convicted of raping her 11-year-old daughter.

Although such acknowledgements are welcome, the suffering from years in labor camp detention still lingers for Huang Bo.  "Even though I already left the labor camp for a long time, that electrical shock sound still makes me feel fear.  I am lucky.  I finally ran out of China and came to America," he said.


Victor Beattie and Ken Schwartz contributed to this report.  Additional reporting by Michael Lipin in Washington.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More