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China Focus: Lawmakers call for labor camp reform

By Mou Xu, Han Miao (Xinhua)

08:28, March 04, 2013

BEIJING, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Ahead of the Chinese national legislature's annual session kicking off on Monday, national lawmakers have backed reform of controversial labor camps in which people can be sentenced to up to four years' "re-education" by police without trial.

The labor camp system, known as laojiao, was "a disgrace to China's national image and required urgent reform," as it runs against the principles of lawful governance and justice which the country pursues, said Yang Weicheng, who is a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC) and lawyer from Shandong Province.

Deng Hui, an NPC deputy and law school dean from Jiangxi Province, said the labor camp system violated various laws, including the Law on Legislation and the Administrative Penalty Law. It's also a deviation from a human rights convention the Chinese government had signed, he added.

"The reform of laojiao is imminent and inescapable," Deng said.

The re-education through labor camp system was established in the 1950s to consolidate the newly founded republic and rectify social order. It allows police to detain people, usually charged with minor offenses, for up to four years without an open trial.

Although it has helped maintain social order over the past several decades, its downside has also emerged. As an extra-judicial penalty, it's prone to misuse and abuse by the police. Moreover, it runs counters to increasing legal awareness among the public and China's endeavor for the rule of law.

An NPC deputy and legal expert from Fujian Province, Dai Zhongchuan said, "To some degree, the labor camp system makes people live in fear. It's an unchecked and unsupervised measure that can deprive and limit people's freedom outside court, making it extremely liable to be abused by power."

Calls for the system's reform have been running high for years. Several recent high-profile cases involving misuse of labor camp education have put it eve more under the spotlight.

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