China’s Yunnan Province will no longer hand out sentences to forced labor camps, according to a state media report. The announcement is the latest specific policy curtailing the use of the controversial and often abused institutions, after the new leadership said it would halt or reform the work camp system.
Meng Sutie, head of Yunnan’s Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC), which controls all security services in the province, announced at a provincial PLAC meeting on Feb. 5 that Yunnan would immediately stop sending people to reeducation through labor camps on grounds such as “threatening national security,” “causing unrest through petitioning,” and “smearing the image of officials,” Communist Party mouthpiece Xinhua reported on Feb. 6.
Meng said labor camp sentencing for other reasons will also be suspended, and all cases will be handled in accordance with the law.
However, people who are currently held in the labor camps have to continue serving their terms, he said.
The news has created a buzz on China’s Internet, with many Chinese netizens questioning the decision to keep holding current labor camp detainees.
Yunnan is the first province to suspend labor camp admissions since China’s new PLAC head Meng Jianzhu announced on Jan. 7 the decision to this year abolish the regime’s use of re-education through labor (RTL)
Guangdong Province, adjacent to Hong Kong, is likely the next early mover. Yan Zhichan, director of Guangdong’s Department of Justice, said Jan. 28 that Guangdong has made preparations to stop the re-education through labor system this year after the national reform plan is passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in March.
Yunnan’s early adoption is seen as an attempt by the provincial Party head Qin Guangrong to show loyalty to new Party leader Xi Jinping. Qin moved up through the ranks of the Youth League, the power base of former Party leader Hu Jintao, who is now a Xi supporter. However, in the past, Qin has been close to Xi’s foe, the ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai.
The Chinese Ministry of Justice said that as of October 2012, there are 60,000 being held in labor camps. Independent figures from groups outside China indicate that the number of detainees ranges from the hundreds of thousands to the millions.
News commentator and columnist Zheng Gongxie said the abolition of China’s forced labor system would be a significant and real reform, “but it depends on Xi Jinping’s courage and determination.”
“The greatest barrier would be former Party head Jiang Zemin’s faction and their policy of persecuting Falun Gong,” Zheng said.
The U.S. State Department wrote in 2009: “Some foreign observers estimated that Falun Gong adherents constituted at least half of the 250,000 officially recorded inmates in RTL camps, while Falun Gong sources overseas placed the number even higher.”
According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, the reform through labor system “thrived with the persecution of Falun Gong.” Executive director Levi Browde is quoted in a press release saying: “Hundreds of thousands populate these facilities. We have received reports that well over half of the population is Falun Gong practitioners.”
The system is convenient to persecute Falun Gong and others because victims can be detained without trial. Torture and beatings are regularly reported.
Hong Kong’s Chengming Magazine reported in November 2012 that Hu Jintao and outgoing premier Wen Jiabao had wanted to abolish the forced labor system before they stepped down. However, officials from the PLAC were against it and instead proposed a reform policy.
The Chengming report also warned that the fight over whether to abolish the labor system could induce a new round of power struggle in the Party. It also cautioned that if it’s not abolished, protests could result.
Editor’s Note: When Chongqing’s former top cop, Wang Lijun, fled for his life to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, he set in motion a political storm that has not subsided. The battle behind the scenes turns on what stance officials take toward the persecution of Falun Gong. The faction with bloody hands—the officials former CCP head Jiang Zemin promoted in order to carry out the persecution—is seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes and to continue the campaign. Other officials are refusing to participate in the persecution any longer. Events present a clear choice to the officials and citizens of China, as well as people around the world: either support or oppose the persecution of Falun Gong. History will record the choice each person makes.
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