Lawyers hail Yunnan's suspension of laojiao system

2013-02-08 00:59:55 GMT2013-02-08 08:59:55(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

KUNMING, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- Chinese legal experts have expressed their support for a decision by southwest China's Yunnan Province to suspend the use of the much-disputed labor camp sentence -- "laojiao."

According to an announcement earlier this week by Yunnan Politics and Law Committee chief Meng Sutie, the province will stop sending people to re-education through labor camps on grounds including threatening national security, petitioning by causing unrest, and smearing the image of officials.

Approvals of laojiao for other cases are also suspended, Meng said. The move has made Yunnan the first Chinese province to halt laojiao sentences, which have been criticized for being prone to abuse.

Wang Qiliang, vice dean of the law school of Yunnan University, hailed Yunnan's decision for setting an example for other Chinese regions.

Wang described the system as a legacy of a time when China lacked legal means to penalize many minor offenses. As China has basically completed its legal framework, he said, the system should be consigned to history.

"Now its ills have outweighed its benefits, its very existence goes against the rule of law," Wang said.

The re-education through labor camp system was established in the 1950s to consolidate the newly founded republic and rectify social order. It allows police to detain people, usually charged with minor offenses, for up to four years without an open trial.

Many experts believe it contradicts the Constitution and has been abused by local officials to safeguard "social security."

Wang said the three kinds of laojiao sentences Yunnan has stopped were the most prone to misuse and triggering social unrests.

Jiang Tiansheng, a lawyer in Kunming, capital of Yunnan, said legal professionals have paid close attention to the laojiao reforms.

"Whether to abolish it or replace with some other means of correcting illegal acts, it is imperative to end unchecked police power and protect people's liberty and basic civil rights," according to Jiang.

An unnamed official from the Yunnan Politics and Law Committee said they had planned to "properly solve the remaining problems," carrying on the laojiao for those already in the camps and combining laojiao reforms with the building of other facilities, such as drug rehabilitation centers.

China's laojiao sentences came into question in recent months after two high-profile cases involving suspected misuse of the camps.

Last month, a court in the southwestern city of Chongqing rejected an appeal from Ren Jianyu, a 25-year-old village official, against his 2011 sentence of two years in a labor camp for spreading "negative information and inciting the subversion of state power."

Ren was released in November last year, after serving just over half of his sentence.

The controversy was also highlighted by the case of Tang Hui, a woman in central Hunan Province who was sentenced to internment in a labor camp in August after demanding tougher penalties for the seven men convicted of abducting, raping and prostituting her 11-year-old daughter.

Tang was released within a week following complaints from the public and academics.

Jiang Wei, a senior official in charge of judicial reforms, in October said the necessity of the reforms had been recognized and a related plan was being formulated.

This year, the government will push the reform of the system, according to the national political and legal work conference that concluded on Jan. 8.

In late January, south China's Guangdong Province also said it had planned to end the system within the year.

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