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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora