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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid