Former labour camp inmate Tang Hui denied compensation
A court in Hunan has denied compensation to a former labour camp inmate in a what could have been landmark case in Hunan on Friday. Tang Hui had sought damages from the Yongzhou government department that had put her in the camp for infringing on her personal freedom.
Last August, Tang was sentenced to 18 months in a labour camp by the local re-education through labour (laojiao) commission for petitioning for a harsher verdict for the men who had raped her daughter.
The national outrage caused by Tang's ordeal led to a reversal of sentence within a week. It also spurred a debate about the abolition of the re-education through labour system that lacks judicial oversight. Two provinces, Guangdong and Yunnan, announced their intention earlier this year to put an end to the practice.
In January, Tang attempted in vain to challenge her sentence in an administrative lawsuit. She then took the commission to court demanding a written apology, damages amounting to 1,000 yuan (HK$1,254) and compensation of 1,463.85 yuan for taking her personal freedom.
Many media outlets, including the Beijing News and the Guangzhou Daily, sent reporters to cover the hearing. Except national media, all were barred from doing so on Friday at the Yongzhou Intermediary People's Court.
Si Weijiang, one of Tang's two lawyers, told the reporters during a break that the head of the Yongzhou re-education through labour commission, who is also a deputy mayor and the head of the local public security bureau, refused to appear in court, because, he said, he was busy dealing with a traffic matter.
In the late afternoon the court turned down Tang's request for compensation and an apology. She can appeal to the Hunan Supreme People's Court within 15 days.
"If I win, my laojiao [ordeal] comes to an end," she told journalists a day ahead of the hearing. "If I lose, I will sue again."
In October 2006, her then 11-year-old daughter was abducted and raped more than a hundred times before being rescued three months later. A Hunan court sentenced two of the abductors to death, four others were given life sentences, one person was convicted to fifteen years in prison.
Tang was not satisfied with the verdict. Saying that the sentences were too lenient, she alleged that the evidence had been falsified and that her daughter's identification of two local police officers as rapists had intentionally been ignored by investigators.
"They don't want to create a precedent for wider requests for compensation," said Joshua Rosenzweig, a researcher at the Centre for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"This probably is the most well-known case of re-education through labour ever, given the coverage it has gotten. With the recent exposure [of conditions at a women's labour camp] in Liaoning, this would have been an opportunity to show some good news."