An informal group of Chinese dissidents has published an online petition calling for an end to the Chinese Communist Party’s Re-education Through Labor System.
Soon after the statement was put online in late July, more than 400 Chinese netizens signed in support. While the petition was swiftly removed from Chinese websites by the censors, Chinese media outside the mainland have recently publicized the case.
The Re-education Through Labor System system (called laojiao) has existed since 1957 and permits police, rather than judicial authorities, to sentence people for up to four years' incarceration for minor crimes. It was first used to punish “counter-revolutionaries,” “rightists,” and other arbitrarily designated enemies of the people.
The system permits officials to capriciously deprive any citizen of his personal freedom without the benefit of the legal system, and as such is often used as a tool for political persecution. Severe human rights violations result.
Beijing scholar Zhang Hui, Hunan Province resident Xiao Yong, and several others who launched the petition pointed out that the current forced labor reeducation system and its administrative laws are contrary to many other laws and international human rights conventions to which China is a signatory.
According to Xiao, the system is a stumbling block for China's progress on the path to the rule of law. “If China were a society ruled by law, why would people let something unconstitutional exist?”
Over the last decade use of the forced labor system has in large part been devoted to detaining and persecuting practitioners of Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline. Hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were put into forced labor camps without the benefit of trial. Once in custody, they are often tortured, a fact that has led to the confirmed deaths of over 3,000 individuals and the mental or physical incapacitation of numerous others, according to Falun Gong websites and third parties. The state’s campaign against them continues.
Zhang believes that the more than 400 signatures supporting the proposal is a reflection of the public’s general opinion: “The general public’s position is unmistakably clear!”
There have been a number of similar attempts by Chinese scholars and activists in the past few years.
Beijing Institute of Technology professor Hu Xingdou wrote a letter to the regime's top leaders in 2003, advising that the forced labor system be abolished.
In January 2004, members of the Guangdong Province Political Consultative Conference initiated a bill to remove the reeducation system. Professor Le Zheng, director of the Shenzhen City Academy of Social Sciences, Chen Jia, Director of China News in Guangdong, and Pan Weiwen, editor-in-chief chief of the Yangcheng Evening News, sanctioned the bill.
In December 2007, renowned Chinese economist Mao Yushi and 42 other scholars and professionals from the legal community published an open letter to the State Council. They called on the authorities to abolish the forced labor reeducation system.
Yu Jianrong, director of the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences published a book in 2009 criticizing the system, based on 100 related appeals cases. Yu believed a forced labor system without the supervision of the judiciary is a blatant violation of the constitution.
In their latest effort, Zhang believes the people have spoken again, and he believes that the justice-minded among the citizenry will add support. Public support from a sufficiently large portion of the population would, Zhang says, be sufficient to have the system shut down.