The ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) is likely to reform the much-reviled camps where detainees are re-educated through labour, a senior leader indicated on Monday.
The system allows police to detain people for up to four years without an open trial, leading experts to argue that it contradicts high-level laws, including China's constitution.
According to the Bureau of Re-education Through Labour under the Ministry of Justice, 160,000 people were imprisoned in 350 re-education through labor centers nationwide as of the end of 2008.
According to reports in the state media, Meng Jianzhu, secretary, Central Politics and Law Commission – that oversees Chinese laws and legal enforcement – indicated that a detailed study on the system will be put up to the National People’s Congress, the Parliament, for approval later this year.
The report to be put up to the NPC includes petitions from ordinary Chinese and letters of complaints from them.
Meng was addressing a meeting in Beijing when he talked about reforming the judicial and the household registration systems. He did not share more details about the reforms. Questions remain on whether the camps will be abolished or whether the government will merely reduce the time for detainees to be spent in the camps.
The state media said that last month, a court in southwest China's Chongqing municipality rejected an appeal from Ren Jianyu, a 25-year-old village official who was sentenced to two years in a re-education through labor camp in September 2011 for spreading "negative information" and inciting the subversion of state power.
And last August, a woman in central China's Hunan province was sentenced to 18 months in a labor camp after demanding tougher penalties for seven men who were convicted of abducting, raping and prostituting her 11-year-old daughter.
In October, Jiang Wei, head of a government committee on judicial reform, had said the government has found widespread agreement among legal scholars and lawmakers on the need to reform the labour camp system, and an overhaul is being devised based on that consensus.
Thousands of citizens, many among them educated and some later to be top leaders of the Communist Party of China, were sent to labour camps to do manual work during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in ’60s and ‘70s.
Established in the 1950s, the system is reviled among the progressive but such prisons continue to exist in unidentified locations across China.