China's labour camp system officially abolished

NPC Standing Committee officially abolishes system of 're-education' used to silence activists

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 10:27am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 2:09am

The mainland's notorious re-education-though-labour system is officially history.

The decision by the National People's Congress Standing Committee to formally abolish the 56-year-old system, which allowed authorities to sentence people to up to four years of forced labour without trial, was praised by former prisoners.

Under the new policy approved by the national legislature at the end of its six-day meeting in Beijing, those still in labour camp time would be released and their remaining terms not enforced.

"The labour camp system is a shame on China," said Huang Chengcheng , 31, of Chongqing , who spent two years in a labour camp for posting an online comment seen as a reference to the Arab spring. "I am so happy that I have lived to see the day of its abolition."

This month, the rights group Amnesty International published a report saying that mainland authorities had already begun replacing labour camps with other forms of extrajudicial detention, including "black jails", drug rehabilitation facilities and "brainwashing centres".

The NPC Standing Committee also endorsed a relaxation of the country's three-decade-old one-child policy, allowing couples to have a second child if one of the parents was an only child. Previously, couples could have two children if neither parent had siblings.

The policy change came amid growing concern that declining birth rates and an ageing population put the country's long-term economic health at risk.

An end to re-education through labour was promised in January by new security chief Meng Jianzhou . The system, originally used to purge counter-revolutionaries, became a convenient way for authorities to silence activists, petitioners and other troublemakers.

A 2009 UN Human Rights Council report estimated there were 190,000 people held in 320 labour camps across the country.

"The change shows the top leadership has begun to respond to Chinese citizens of what they had promised," said Wang Yukai , a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance. "This is the beginning of a new direction for reform, and a first step that could end with more reforms."