Kinder face for notorious re-education camps

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 February, 2007, 12:00am

The mainland plans to reform its laojiao, or re-education through labour, system, turning it into a special education programme for young offenders, a legal expert said.

Fu Hualing , a mainland criminal law specialist at the University of Hong Kong who is close to State Council legal experts, said the National People's Congress Standing Committee was drafting a new rule to replace the laojiao policy.

'China is designing something to replace laojiao, because laojiao is too harsh,' Professor Fu said. Changes would include a name change to something like 'rehabilitation centre', halving the maximum three-year term and mandating the need for judicial approval.

Laojiao has been applied since 1955 as a convenient way for local governments to deal with social and political crises. Police have the power to put all kinds of minor offenders or people believed to be a risk to social stability into laojiao centres without judicial approval.

Beijing has used laojiao to suppress social and political unrest, incarcerating rightists in 1957, pro-democracy protesters after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, those who breached the one-child policy and Falun Gong devotees. The China Labour Bulletin rights watchdog says more than 300,000 people are kept in laojiao centres at any time.

Professor Fu said all of the centres would be changed into 'correction or rehabilitation camps' for those aged 18 to 30.

'The system will be more humane and more like a special school for minor offenders and first-time criminals and give them opportunities to rehabilitate,' he said. While labour would still be a key component, there would be more vocational training courses.

International human rights watchdogs have criticised the system, especially since China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bans forced labour and other human rights violations in 1998.

But Professor Fu said the key reason behind Beijing's plans to change the system were domestic.

'International criticism is an embarrassment ... But I don't think China would hear international voices that much,' he said.

Professor Fu expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the new system because no monitoring mechanism would be introduced.