Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

China hints at ending its labor prison camps

By Alexis Lai and Steven Jiang, CNN
January 8, 2013 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China may terminate controversial system of labor prison camps this year
  • State media reported most senior law enforcement official proposed to stop using system
  • Petty offenders jailed up to 4 years in labor camps without judicial hearing
  • Both human rights activists and government say reforms necessary

(CNN) -- Hints emerged Monday that China may terminate its controversial system of labor prison camps this year.

The proposal to stop using the system was put forth at a working conference by the country's most senior law enforcement official, Meng Jianzhu, according to a post by the state-run CCTV on its Sina Weibo microblogging account. Meng is the secretary of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Politics and Law Commission.

The proposal requires the approval of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress-- the country's legislature-- although it is largely a rubber-stamp formality.

Opinion: Corruption as China's top priority

The CCTV post was later deleted, as well as a post quoting it by the state-run Xinhua news agency. A post on the topic by the People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, also disappeared on Weibo.

However, Xinhua later wrote that the system would be reformed (albeit with no mention of its abolishment) on its English Twitter account, and English and Chinese news websites.

Read more: Censorship protest a test for reform-minded China

Under the "laodong jiaoyang" or "re-education through labor" system, petty offenders, such as thieves, prostitutes and drug abusers, are imprisoned for up to four years in labor camps without a judicial hearing. The United Nations Human Rights Council estimates there are 190,000 inmates in 320 such centers across the country.

Critics say the camps, which fall outside of the formal prison system, are often misused to persecute government dissidents, including intellectuals, human rights activists, and followers of banned spiritual groups like the Falun Gong.

Two high-profile cases that became public last year generated a massive backlash, forcing the government to address the thorny issue. In one case, a mother was sentenced to 1.5 years in a labor camp for "disrupting social order" after she repeatedly petitioned officials to execute men convicted of raping her 11-year-old daughter. In another case, a young village official was sent to a labor camp for two years for retweeting Weibo posts deemed seditious.

Recent official sentiment has indicated that reform, if not abolishment of the system, is needed. The camps date back to the 1950s when the new Communist regime sought to silence its enemies to consolidate its power.

Read more: Chinese journalists in rare protest against censorship

In October, a senior official in charge of judicial system reform acknowledged that reforms were necessary and underway, according to Xinhua.

"The system was designed to maintain social order, prevent and reduce crimes by reforming people who committed minor offenses but were not punishable by the penal code," the Xinhua editorial went on to say. "It did play an important role in maintaining social order in specific periods, however, with the development of society and the legal system, its defects have become more and more evident."

Read more: China's tightened traffic rules stir debate

CNN's Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 0518 GMT (1318 HKT)
A top retired general has confessed to taking bribes, becoming the highest-profile figure in China's military to be caught up in President Xi Jinping's war on corruption.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
A group in China escapes from a stuck elevator thanks to one man and his trusty hammer. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1352 GMT (2152 HKT)
Facebook's founder says he taught himself Mandarin and tested his skills with students in China.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0133 GMT (0933 HKT)
China launched an experimental spacecraft that is scheduled to orbit the moon before returning to Earth.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Full marks for ingenuity: This was a truly high-tech scam.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0526 GMT (1326 HKT)
The rationale behind Confucius Institutes -- an international chain of academic centers run by an arm of the Chinese government -- is understandable.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1511 GMT (2311 HKT)
Smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G wants everyone to know that he's not a foreign agitator trying to defy the Chinese Communist Party.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 0511 GMT (1311 HKT)
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0020 GMT (0820 HKT)
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
ADVERTISEMENT