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China urged to end "Re-education Through Labor" without loopholes

The Chinese government should follow news that it will abolish the abusive Re-education Through Labor system by announcing that it will not put in place another form of detention without trial, Human Rights Watch said on November 15, 2013.

The November 15 announcement was part of a program of economic, financial, and legal reforms detailed in a 60-point document issued at the outcome of a major political conference of the Communist Party.

Other announcements at the Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee included a loosening of the one-child policy by allowing couples a second child if one of the parents was a single child; a plan to reduce the number of crimes warranting the death penalty; efforts to reduce forced confessions and wrongful convictions; and reforms that would make courts less subservient to local governments.

The Chinese government has finally responded to years of international and domestic criticism by announcing it will abolish Re-education Through Labor, said Brad Adams, Asia Director. This important step will only be meaningful if the government ensures what comes after it does not institute another system of detention without trial.

Laojiao, as the Re-education Through Labor system is known in Chinese, is in principle reserved for minor crimes that do not qualify for criminal punishment. But the police have also long used it as an expedient tool for suppressing dissent and incarcerating government critics, petitioners, whistle-blowers, rights activists, members of underground Christian churches or banned religious sects, and others deemed a threat to public order.

The Communist Party's decision states that the government will perfect laws on punishing and correcting criminal acts and improve community correction system. According to the Ministry of Justice, community correction has been piloted across the country since 2009, while Community Correction Regulations were published in February 2012. A draft Community Correction Law has already been submitted to the State Council for review. The draft law has not yet been made public and it is unclear if it will allow detention and, if so, whether this would be allowed without trial and other due process guarantees, such as access to counsel.

Reports by state press suggest some Re-education Through Labor facilities have been converted to drug rehabilitation centers, an administrative system which also allows forced labor, in a number of provinces.

Read the full story on Human Rights Watch's site.

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