Skip to main content

Amnesty report: China's abolition of labor camps a 'cosmetic change'

By Katie Hunt, CNN
December 17, 2013 -- Updated 0235 GMT (1035 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amnesty says China's move to abolish labor camps may be a cosmetic change
  • Rights groups says Chinese authorities are expanding use of other types of arbitrary detention
  • China said on November 15 that it would close its labor camp system
  • NEW: Chinese government declines to comment on the report

Hong Kong (CNN) -- China's move to abolish re-education through labor camps -- under which tens of thousands have been imprisoned without trial -- may be no more than a cosmetic change, a new report from Amnesty International warns.

The human rights group says that while labor camps are being shut, research suggested that authorities are expanding the use of "black jails," enforced drug rehabilitation clinics and "brainwashing centers" to take their place.

"There is a very real risk that the Chinese authorities will abolish one system of arbitrary detention only to expand the use of other types," the report said.

A spokesman from China's Ministry of Justice declined to comment on the Amnesty report.

Secret letter found inside Halloween toy

Corinna-Barbara Francis, Amnesty International's China researcher, said the abolishment may only be a "cosmetic change just to avert the public outcry over the abusive re-education through labor system."

China said on November 15 that it would close its labor camps after earlier putting the policy under review, with the move hailed as the biggest change to China's criminal justice system in decades.

Detention without trial

The system was set up in 1950s and allows police to detain petty offenders -- such as thieves, prostitutes and drug addicts -- for up to four years without a trial.

READ: China to abolish labor camps, report says

According to China's Ministry of Justice, the country had 351 labor camps at the end of 2012, with more than 50,000 inmates. Other estimates have put the number of detainees much higher.

The "re-education process" has also been used to punish those detained for their political, religious or personal beliefs -- such as members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement or petitioners with complaints against local officials, Amnesty said.

Torture is said to be rife at the camps.

Detainees have told Amnesty International they were beaten, sometimes with electric batons, denied food, subjected to simulated drowning, injected with unknown drugs and subjected to the "rack" torture."

Brainwashing centers

The report said interviews with petitioners and Falun Gong practitioners revealed abuses were continuing despite the closure of the camps.

READ: Chinese labor camp inmate's Halloween cry for help

Some labor camps were being re-labeled as drug rehabilitation centers and released detainees were being sent to black jails -- unofficial detention centers set up in places like hotels or abandoned buildings -- or "brainwashing centers," another form of arbitrary detention.

Falun Gong practitioner Zhang Zhi told Amnesty International she was released from a labor camp in Harbin in June 2013 but on her release staff from a brainwashing center were waiting for her at the gate. Her family were able to intervene and prevented her from being taken away. She has since gone into hiding.

"The Chinese authorities must immediately end all forms of arbitrary detention and ensure that laws protecting detainees are brought into line with international human rights standards," Francis said.

"This needs to be a fundamental change in the policies that are at the root of the repression and which strip detainees of their most basic rights."

READ: Chinese petitioners claim hotel used as 'black jail'

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0538 GMT (1338 HKT)
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 0545 GMT (1345 HKT)
Reforms to the grueling gaokao - the competitive college entrance examination - don't make the grade, says educator Jiang Xueqin.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 1218 GMT (2018 HKT)
Beijing grapples with reports from Iraq that a Chinese national fighting for ISIS has been captured.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0200 GMT (1000 HKT)
CNN's David McKenzie has tasted everything from worms to grasshoppers while on the road; China's cockroaches are his latest culinary adventure.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
Beijing rules only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
China warns the United States to end its military surveillance flights near Chinese territory.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
China has produced elite national athletes but some argue the emphasis on winning discourages children. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0513 GMT (1313 HKT)
Chinese are turning to overseas personal shoppers to get their hands on luxury goods at lower prices.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0908 GMT (1708 HKT)
Experts say rapidly rising numbers of Christians are making it harder for authorities to control the religion's spread.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 0452 GMT (1252 HKT)
"I'm proud of their moral standing," says Harvey Humphrey. His parents are accused of corporate crimes in China.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1942 GMT (0342 HKT)
A TV confession detailing a life of illegal gambling and paid-for sex has capped the dramatic fall of one of China's most high-profile social media celebrities.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 0410 GMT (1210 HKT)
President Xi Jinping's campaign to punish corrupt Chinese officials has snared its biggest target -- where can the campaign go from here?
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0712 GMT (1512 HKT)
All you need to know about the tainted meat produce that affects fast food restaurants across China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is the Chinese president a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
ADVERTISEMENT