News / Asia

    Small Legal Battle in China Challenges Labor Camp System

    A female police officer is seen standing with women in a re-education camp in northeast China in this May 22, 2001, file photo.A female police officer is seen standing with women in a re-education camp in northeast China in this May 22, 2001, file photo.
    x
    A female police officer is seen standing with women in a re-education camp in northeast China in this May 22, 2001, file photo.
    A female police officer is seen standing with women in a re-education camp in northeast China in this May 22, 2001, file photo.
    VOA News
    This week courts in China granted rare compensation to a Chinese mother, Tang Hui, whose campaign for justice on behalf of her daughter instead landed her in a forced labor camp.
     
    Tang, a 39-year-old from China's Hunan province, won her appeal against police authorities who had sentenced her to 18 months of re-education.
     
    The case comes months after China’s top leaders pledged to reform the controversial decades-old labor camp system before the end of the year. But legal analysts say Tang Hui’s verdict may have little impact on the main issues with the camps known as “laogai.”
     
    “This was a case of administrative compensation, and on those grounds Tang's case is won,” says Tang's lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, “But the core issues why Tang kept petitioning, and was eventually put into a labor camp have yet to be solved.”
     
    Tang's seven-year journey
     
    Seven years ago, Tang's then barely 11 year old daughter was kidnapped and locked up in a brothel. She was forced into working as a prostitute for months before Tang and other relatives were able to free her.
     
    When Tang reported the case to the police, authorities responded with indifference.
     
    “There was a policewoman called Jiang, who I think was a deputy chief of the station; she took a deposition from my daughter,” Tang recounted in a recent interview in the online publication Wangyi Xinwen. “She told my daughter: 'you do not look eleven years old at all, you say you have been forced [to prostitution], but I cannot see that you have.’”
     
    Tang says that the policewoman, like many other local officials she spoke with, urged her not to report the case. Instead, she persevered, and two years later courts in Hunan began prosecuting the case.
     
    Last year, the local court eventually sentenced two of the men involved in the abduction to death. Four others received life in prison and one was sentenced to 15 years.
     
    But for Tang the rulings were too lenient.
     
    She began to camp outside government offices, asking for harsher punishment for the perpetrators and for local officials to be held responsible for their inaction.
     
    Her activism irked local authorities, who sent her to a labor camp. However, her sentencing sparked public outrage and, under pressure, the authorities released Tang after only nine days.
     
    Mounting pressure to abolish ‘laogai’
     
    The system of re-education through labor, or laogai in Mandarin, was initially created after the establishment of the People's Republic of China and mainly targeted political opponents of the Communist Party.
     
    The system does not require a trial and is administered by China’s police force, known as the Ministry of Public Security.
     
    An estimated 19,000 people are locked up for petty crimes or any behavior deemed harmful to social order. Sentences can run up to four years.
     
    In the past few years, cases such as Tang Hui’s have stoked public opposition to such arbitrary police power, fueling expectations for reforming or abolishing the practice.
     
    Legal scholars have denounced the system's abuses, and even state media have reported on local officials who rely on labor camps as a way to retaliate after disputes.
     
    “Senior leaders at the central level have talked about the need to reform the system,” says human rights lawyer Li Fangping - who last year wrote a letter urging the government to release sentencing documents and set up hearings to look into the labor camps.
     
    “But still nothing has yet transpired as to whether the camps are going to be abolished,” he says.
     
    Positive steps but still much resistance
     
    Although many in China hope that Tang's case will help abolish the laogai system, so far there are few signs that China’s leaders are even considering reforms.
     
    Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang says that since the beginning of the year, authorities have avoided punishing petitioners with labor camp sentences, but continue using other means to intimidate them.
     
    “They are still charged with disrupting social order, they are put in jail, or their personal freedom is limited in other ways,” he says. “These constraints are illegal, because petitioning in China is a legally recognized recourse.”
     
    Petitioners to Beijing
     
    China handles petitions through the State Bureau for Letters and Visits, which keeps “free-flowing channels” between petitioners and relevant government agencies and is responsible for investigating tens of thousands of citizens complaints each year.
     
    The bureau has offices at every level of government. Technically, if a complaint is not addressed locally, citizens can appeal to the provincial branches or come to the highest ranking bureau office in Beijing.
     
    But local officials often keep petitioners from going to the capital fearing it would hurt their reputation in the eyes of their superiors, and reduce their chances for promotion.
     
    “On one side they says that the door is open, but on the other, as soon as you get through, they arrest you,” says Pu.
     
    A recent survey by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences professor Yu Jianrong found that only 0.2 percent of petitioners successfully resolved their problem through help provided by the system.
     
    The bigger impact from Tang Hui’s case may be in how it affects public opinion of petitioners and the labor camp system. Ever since her daughter's ordeal was reported, Tang, who has been dubbed “petitioner mother” by Chinese media, received broad support from the Chinese public as well as in policy circles.
     
    In a recent editorial on Caixin magazine, Fan Zhongxin, professor of law at Hanzhou University, said that Tang did not behave in a manner that was disproportionate to the harm inflicted on her child.
     
    “She attempted to reaffirm moral standards,” Fan wrote, “and as a result society is better off for it.”

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.