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China plans labor camp reforms

Beijing has said it plans to introduce reforms at forced labor camps. The widely condemned system, more than half-a-century old, allows authorities to send individuals for "re-education" without charge or trial.

barbed wire over the fence © Kostyantyn Ivanyshen #3751094

Stacheldraht

The country’s parliament would be asked to approve reform of "re-education through labour," said the state news agency Xinhua on Monday.

"The Chinese government will this year push the reform of its controversial re-education through labour system, according to a national political and legal work conference on Monday," Xinhua said.

Political and Legal Affairs Committee head, Meng Jianzhu, was reported earlier as saying that the practise would be ended completely, although this was later amended to the idea of it being reformed.

Previously, indications about the future of the labor camp system were that it would be reformed, although the possibility of an outright abolition has also been raised.

First step to legal reform

China has debated the use of the system for more than a decade. Reforms to it have been viewed as a first step towards legal reform promised by new Communist Party chief Xi Jinping. Many experts, including government officials, have argued that the system violates the national constitution.

Since the 1950s, police and other agencies have been able to detain people without charge for up to four years in labor camps, with some 350 labor camps throughout the country housing about 160,000 inmates.

Sentences without trial were given to people convicted of minor offences without trial, as well as to dissidents, legal petitioners and members of illegal religious groups.

Tens of thousands of people belonging to the Falun Gong spiritual movement – banned in 1999 - have been sent to labour camps.

According to some former detainees at some camps, Falun Gong practitioners made up the majority of prisoners.

rc/ipj (dpa, Reuters)