Scholars and peasants vs. re-education through labor

Drug offenders undergoing re-education through labor

Sixty-nine legal scholars and lawyers led by Mao Yushi and He Weifang have sent a letter to the NPC Standing Committee and the Legal Affairs Office of the State Council urging the state to eliminate the practice of re-education through labor.

The system of administrative detention, established in 1957, gives the police the discretion to detain people for crimes that might not merit criminal punishment. Because the practice exists outside of the normal criminal justice system, the letter-writers claim that it violates article 37 of the constitution (the "freedom of person" guarantee), contradicts laws on criminal justice passed in 1996 and 2000, and violates international treaties on human rights, to which China is a signatory.

The letter also argues from a more pragmatic perspective that re-education through labor is simply bad policy:

  1. The existence of education through labor gravely harms the authority of criminal law.
  2. The principle of appropriate punishment: when administrative punishment of re-education through labor is applied to an action that does not rise to the level of a criminal offense is, such detention is worse than criminal punishment.
  3. Being completely directed by public security agencies, re-education through labor is a classic example of "police punishment," and breaks the balance between public security, the procuratorate, and the judiciary.
  4. Re-education through labor is highly irregular; the public security agencies have unrestricted freedom of discretion, further inflating the already excessive power of public security.
  5. Re-education through labor has a completely closed report and approval system. It is not open, and there is no room for argument or advocacy.
  6. Re-education through labor has become a hotbed of misjudged and erroneous cases. Cases that are unapproved or rejected by the procuratorate, cleared by the courts, or which have insufficient evidence or unlawful detention can be transferred to re-education through labor.
  7. Out of a desire for profit, some PSBs even use their power of re-education through labor as a way to make money for their department.
  8. Re-education through labor is increasingly being used as a tool to threaten and attack petitioners, informants, and citizens protecting their rights.
  9. Re-education through labor is a form of unequal punishment. It distinguishes between citizens and foreigners as well as by class and station. The 1992 issuance of the Notice on Restriction of Detention and Investigation and Re-education Through Labor to Foreigners, Overseas Chinese, and Compatriots of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao by the Ministry of Public Security makes this quite clear. Moreover, illegal activity in the course of duty, such as graft and corruption, coerced confessions, and traps and frame-ups, practically never result in re-education through labor.

A court in Henan recently accepted a suit by a rural resident who also says that the re-education through labor system is illegal.

Chen Chao, a resident of Yichuan, Henan, was the member of a local gang that demanded protection fees from local residents. On 30 December, 2006, the gang got involved in a quarrel with another individual and smashed up his van. Chen was eventually arrested on 26 July this year. But at the end of August, he was set free for want of evidence.

In September, Chen was ordered to undergo two years of re-education through labor by the Luoyang branch of the system. Chen recruited a lawyer and sued.

The Mirror, which reported on the situation when Chen's suit was accepted by the court last month, spoke to one of the judges in the Luoyang Court. Hao Yali, a the vice-director of the court, has a master's degree in law:

When handling this type of sensitive case, the first question the court will ask is whether to accept the case. Apart from certain special cases, the judcial apparatus ought to give the individuals involved in cases that concern re-education through labor issues a chance to appear in open court.

Also, from The Toronto Star, "Forced labor protest backfires":

Liu Jie, a small woman with a big heart, thought she had a great idea when she organized a petition that asked the Chinese government to end its harsh system of "re-education through labour" camps.

Now she's locked up in one.

Friends say the 54-year-old ended up there the same way most people do: without the benefit of a trial, a judge or a lawyer.

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There are currently 2 Comments for Scholars and peasants vs. re-education through labor.

Comments on Scholars and peasants vs. re-education through labor

This is an excellent development and I commend the signatories. I'm sure they're right to approach it as a pragmatic issue, as that seems to have the best chance of getting a hearing, but I wonder if the various lobbies within government who rely on these sort of crude control measures are going to be easily persuaded to give them up.

This would seem to be the time for it, Jim - look at the reform of the administrative detention system after the Sun Zhigang episode, and the changes to the chengguan system, outlining the scope of their power and responsibility, that have followed several years of public outcry over abuses. So I don't think it's overly optimistic to anticipate changes to the way re-education is handled, perhaps folding it in to the current criminal justice system, allowing it to continue to be used as an alternative to prison while giving the courts more oversight. Sure, the cops will probably find new ways to hold people indefinitely, but it'll be a step in the right direction.

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