Former prisoner welcomes China labour camp reform

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 9:20pm

A Chinese man who served two years in a hard labour camp for mocking a crime crackdown by disgraced former politician Bo Xilai welcomed proposed changes to the “re-education” system on Tuesday.

Peng Hong said he was encouraged by reports that China would reform the long-criticised system, in which people can be sentenced to up to four years of re-education by a police panel without even having a chance to put their case.

“I think there should be a trial procedure before a person is given labour education punishment,” he told reporters in his first interview with foreign media.

“It shouldn’t be as before, when a person’s freedom could be restricted for four years by a committee connected to the police without any trial.”

Peng was sent to the camp near his home town of Chongqing in September 2009.

He had re-posted a political cartoon mocking a crime crackdown launched in the southwestern city by Bo, its then-party chief since toppled by a murder and corruption scandal, and his now-imprisoned head of police Wang Lijun.

On Monday the official microblog of the CCTV state news channel quoted Meng Jianzhu, a member of the powerful 25-strong Politburo who oversees politics and legal affairs, as saying that China would stop using the system.

The reports were quickly deleted, but on Tuesday state-run media said changes would be made. “The government will push reforms of the system this year,” said the China Daily, without giving details.

Most of those condemned to the camps, where they perform manual labour such as farm or factory work, are accused of petty offences, although no criminal conviction is necessary.

Opponents say they are also used to silence government critics and would-be petitioners who seek to bring their complaints against officials to higher authorities.

The system has faced growing criticism for being open to abuse and public anger has previously erupted over sentences deemed too harsh.

News of the reforms was widely welcomed on China’s hugely-popular microblogging sites. “The illegal and inhumane labour camp system has finally come to an end,” said one poster on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

“Re-education through labour – the source of all evil,” said another user.

Peng said he received 113,000 yuan (US$18,000) in compensation last November after he launched a campaign to rescind his sentence.

He still faces financial hardship and is struggling to pay hospital costs for his sick daughter, who was born while he was interned.

But the 37-year-old said he was “not angry” over his detention.

“I have no complaints,” he said. “There should be some improvements (in the rule of law) if the system is reformed. We should be optimistic.”