Activists urge 'real' reform of Chinese re-education policy

Activists urge 'real' reform of Chinese re-education policy

Activists urge 'real' reform of Chinese re-education policy

Updated 8 January 2013, 21:28 AEST

Human rights activists have cautiously welcomed news that China will abandon its system of 're-education through labour'.

Human rights activists have cautiously welcomed an announcement that China will abandon its system of 're-education through labour'.

Under the police-run system, people can be sentenced to up to four years of re-education, where they are forced to perform manual labour such as agricultural or factory work.

Critics say the hard labour system is used to punish dissidents and would-be petitioners, who seek to bring their complaints against officials to higher authorities.

The head of the Communist Party's powerful Political and Legal Committee, Meng Jianzhu, has told government officials the re-education practice will "stop" by the end of the year.

Sophie Richardson, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Washington, says while the move is positive, there are concerns any changes will be cosmetic.

"What we need to see is the wholesale abolition of the re-education through labour system," Ms Richardson told Radio Australia's Connect Asia.

"So while we're certainly pleased to have heard this announcement, we're still a long way away from anything meaningful really changing."

Ms Richardson says the labour camps, which hold an estimated 160,000 people, undermine the rule of law.

"I think it's very important people understand that re-education through labour is a system that is under the control of administrative or police authorities in China, not the judicial system.

"All of the people who are incarcerated in this system have wound up there without the benefit of a defence counsel, without access to the evidence that's presented against them and without a decision being rendered about the sentence by a judge. So it is a profoundly arbitrary system of detention."

Most of those sentenced to the camps are accused of prostitution, drug addiction or petty criminal offences, although no criminal conviction is necessary.

The system has faced growing criticism for being open to abuse and public anger has erupted in recent months over sentences deemed too harsh.

ABC/AFP