The proposed closure of China’s re-education through labor camps means reduced persecution against Falun Gong practitioners and a stop to retaliation against petitioners. Calls for abolishing the forced labor system, central to the persecution of Falun Gong, have increased since 2012.
Chinese Communist Party Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC) head Meng Jianzhu announced in a national political and legal work conference on Jan. 7 that the re-education through labor system will be halted this year as part of proposed judicial reforms.
The current use of the controversial system will be reduced and tightly restricted, with lawmakers expected to approve its entire abolition this year, according to a “top government legal adviser” speaking to state-run media China Daily. He also indicated that the changes to the system are imminent.
A Harsh Tool
There were signs that Chinese Communist Party’s top leaders intended to end the forced labor system some months ago. A critical commentary published by state media Xinhua on Aug. 10, 2012 said the forced labor system is a tool used by Chinese officials to “maintain stability” by locking up petitioners when they make valid appeals about local corruption, which has the result of intensifying conflicts between the government and the people.
Research conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences also revealed that the forced labor system has become local officials’ tool to retaliate against petitioners under the banner of maintaining stability, said an Aug. 16, 2012 article in state-run media People’s Daily, which called for shutting down the system.
In Chongqing, where authorities have been known for their harsh persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in the past, sources are quietly leaking reports that point to diminishing use of labor camps in the persecution of the group.
A former labor camp detainee, Mr. Wang, verified the change in labor camp procedures, telling The Epoch Times that it has been much easier for labor camp inmates to apply for parole for medical treatment since May 2012.
An official in the Chongqing 610 office, an extralegal agency that was established under the PLAC to lead the campaign against Falun Gong, said that since late November 2012 local authorities have stopped sending arrested Falun Gong practitioners to labor camps, a source in Chongqing with close contacts in the city’s 610 Office recently passed on to The Epoch Times.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the source, who works in the city’s PLAC system, also said that Chongqing authorities have released most of the Falun Gong practitioners they arrested in August 2012. “In the past, you couldn’t imagine something like this happening,” the source said.
“Those who work for the 610 Office are panicking now. A 610 official told me that only a very few so-called ‘key’ Falun Gong practitioners, who refused to make compromises with authorities, were sentenced. Their cases were submitted to a district Procuratorate, but the Procuratorate sent the cases to the court, and the court to the Public Security Department,” the source added, describing how the offices all tried to avoid dealing with the cases.
Many people are trying to figure out what the new Party leader Xi Jinping is up to. Those who implemented former Party head Jiang Zemin’s campaign are now increasingly worried, the source in Chongqing said, adding, “As it is still not clear what is going on now, no one wants to be left holding the bag.”
A Bad Record
Legal scholars and human rights activists have been calling for the abolishment of the forced labor system since the 1980s, according to New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television’s news commentator Liu Guohua.
“It still exists now because Jiang Zemin used it to persecute Falun Gong practitioners,” he said.
“It will be hard to continue to persecute Falun Gong practitioners if the forced labor system is terminated. The media’s hype on the abolition is enough to make Jiang Zemin worry and fear,” another news commentator, Lin Zixu, told NTD Television.
The abolition also reflects the power struggle in the Party, said Epoch Times’ commentator Xia Xiaoqiang. “Those PLAC officials who have taken part in persecuting innocent people will be investigated. This is why they have been trying to reject Xi Jinping’s call for the rule of law in accordance with the constitution,” Xia told NTD Television.
If Xi Jinping is sincere about judicial reform and doing away with the forced labor system, at least he should immediately release those who are being illegally detained in labor camps because of their political leaning, acting on their conscience, or their religious belief—including Falun Gong practitioners, columnist and commentator Heng He told Sound of Hope Network.
“Chinese authorities should make an open apology to the people, provide national compensation for people who were wrongly imprisoned, and hold those who took part in persecuting innocent people accountable,” Heng He said. “Otherwise, all the talk about judicial reform is nonsense.”
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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