Updated at 7:17 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2012.
Recent reports by Chinese media and in propaganda outlets belonging to the regime say that the Chinese Communist Party may overhaul its reeducation through forced labor system this year, though the reports offered little detail on the claims.
The remarks, made by a top security official, were designed by the new leadership as retaliation against the faction of former Party leader Jiang Zemin, according to a source close to the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party. An official in Jiang’s network recently censored a major newspaper in China’s south, provoking this response from Xi, according to the insider.
During a national work conference held Monday Meng Jianzhu, the head of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC), the body that oversees the security forces, was in paraphrased remarks reported to have said: “The central government has already researched it, and after a request for approval by the National People’s Congress has been made, this year the reeducation through labor system will be halted.”
The remarks about “halting” or stopping the system did not appear in all official media channels. State-run media reported that the regime plans to “advance reforms” of the labor camp system.
According to the source, the move to curtail use of the labor camp system was to be part of Xi Jinping’s overall reform campaign, including anti-corruption and rule-of-law propaganda and policies.
The Public Security Bureau, according to this source, was supposed to submit an incremental plan to abolish the forced labor system, with a two-year transitional period.
But the General Office had to act sooner, because Xi Jinping decided to strike a blow to Jiang, after Tuo Zhen, an ally of Li Changchun, in turn a confidant of Jiang Zemin, censored the newspaper.
The General Office sent out a notice last weekend saying that: “There will be no transitional period. It must stop this year.”
Then on Monday, Meng Jianzhu made his remarks. Dismantling the reeducation through forced labor system would be particularly damaging to Jiang Zemin, whose faction has relied on it to press its political campaigns.
The system of reeducation through forced labor allows Chinese authorities to detain people for years without any formal trial, subjecting inmates to harsh conditions and even torture. The system has been heavily criticized in recent years. Many have said it contravenes the People’s Republic of China’s own constitution and mainly targets petitioners, dissidents, and religious believers.
Wen Zhao, a political commentator for New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television, said he expects that before an important Communist Party meeting in March there will be wrangling and infighting among high-level factions within the Party. He also remarked that what other system might replace the forced labor program, which was first implemented decades ago under dictator Mao Zedong, is still unknown.
“It’s impossible to simply tear down all labor camps. Many police will be without jobs,” he said.
The Chinese Ministry of Justice said last October that more than 60,000 people are sent to forced labor camps each year and in past years, as many as 300,000 people are said to have been detained.
“If true, this would be an important advance,” Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University, told The New York Times. “It’s a tool that is widely abused.”
Public pressure has mounted against the Communist Party to change the system after several high-profile cases, including one of young village official Ren Jianyu. Ren criticized former Chongqing chief Bo Xilai, who was sacked last year over several scandals, and panned China’s forced labor system.
He was sentenced to 15 months without ever seeing a lawyer. He was released in November, after Bo Xilai’s downfall.
While he worked in the labor camp, Ren said he lost more than 65 pounds. The system, he said, is “too arbitrary and anyone could be placed in harm’s way while in such a system, based on my experience.”
Tang Hui, A woman in Hunan Province was sentenced to 18 months in a forced labor camp for demanding more penalties for seven men who abducted and prostituted her daughter. She was released soon after receiving the sentence after public outcry.
In prior incidents, some Chinese have received a year in a labor camp for posting brief remarks online. And in 2008, two elderly women in Beijing spent nearly a year in a labor camp for only posting an application to protest.
The system has also been widely used against practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, in particular under the watch of Jiang Zemin and his point man, the former security czar Zhou Yongkang. Some estimates indicate that they make up at least half the total labor camp population—estimates of which range from the hundreds of thousands, to millions of people.
With research by Frank Fang and Jane Lin.
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