No changes in China’s forced labor

Local officials in charge of China’s controversial forced labor camps say they are operating as usual and have not received any word from Beijing about a possible end to the system.

The state-run Global Times Tuesday said officials in at least six regions across China have received no information about proposed changes to the so-called re-education through labor system.

Last week, state media quoted Politburo member Meng Jianzhu as saying China will stop using the decades-old labor camp system later this year. Those reports were later removed without explanation. Officials later said the system will be reformed.

Beijing for years has discussed possible changes to the system, which has long been criticized by rights groups that say it does not meet international standards.

Chinese authorities use the labor camps to detain prostitutes, drug addicts and other petty criminals for up to four years without putting them on trial in the country’s overloaded courts.

Opponents of the system say Beijing also uses it to silence government critics and dissidents, and they claim torture and other abuses are common in the camps.

Rights groups have welcomed talk of scrapping the system. But many are worried it will be replaced by a similar detention system that will not allow people to defend themselves.

The Global Times, which often reflects official opinion, quoted legal experts as saying the re-education through labor system most likely will be replaced by a rectification through education system.

The report said four cities in China have begun undertaking pilot schemes for the new rectification program. It said the program would entitle offenders to defend themselves with the help of lawyers at courts and appeal their sentences.

The paper also quoted a lawyer and National People’s Congress official as saying offenders would be allowed to stay at home and receive education from community organizations rather than serving terms at re-education facilities.

Any significant reforms to the system could be viewed as a possible indication of new Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s desire to carry out moderate political and legal reform.

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