Pressure is growing for the central government to overhaul its 'reform-through-labour' system, following the violent death of an inmate at a labour re-education camp in Liaoning province. The tragedy of Zhang Bin, who was tortured to death by nine inmates at the camp in Huludao in April, came to light soon after the highly publicised death of Sun Zhigang, a young engineer who was killed in police custody in Guangzhou in March. Sun was detained because he was not carrying his identity documents. His death prompted the authorities to revoke a regulation allowing police to detain vagrants and beggars arbitrarily. But scholars are now urging the authorities to go one step further and focus their attention on abuses of the system of reform through labour, a form of administrative punishment for minor offences such as theft, prostitution, fraud and drug addiction which are not serious enough to carry criminal sentences. But critics say the system is often used by the authorities to detain dissidents. Under existing regulations, police are legally empowered to send any suspects to a labour education centre for up to three years without trial. Mao Shoulong, a public administration professor at People's University in Beijing, said the system was not fair to offenders who committed minor crimes because a one-year term in a labour education camp could be as harsh as six months in prison. The system was arbitrary and lacked proper legal foundations because the National People's Congress had never introduced laws relating to reform through labour, Professor Mao said. He said reforms were needed urgently as the recent incidents involving Zhang and Sun had exposed the weaknesses of system. Other legal scholars shared Professor Mao's view that reforms were necessary, but held different opinions about how changes should be made. A recent report by a group of legal experts from People's University recommended that courts be set up to deal with minor offences so that law-enforcement agencies would have to follow legal procedures in sending offenders to labour re-education centres. But law professor Zhao Bingzhi, one of the experts who wrote the report, warned that it would be unrealistic to expect the central government to scrap the entire system. 'Every year hundreds of thousands of people are punished by reform through labour,' Professor Zhao said. 'What are they going to do with these people if there is no such system in place? Furthermore, these people are not completely innocent.'