China to mull scrapping re-education

BEIJING, Reuters

China’s parliament will consider abolishing the system of “re-education through labor”, state media reported Thursday, but cautioned that scrapping the punishment could still meet stiff opposition.

Re-education through labor empowers police to sentence petty criminals to up to four years’ confinement without going through the courts, a system that critics say undermines rule of law and rights activists say targets political prisoners.

“According to the annual legislative plan released on Tuesday … the proposed law on correction of illegal acts is among the 20 draft laws or amendments to be discussed this year,” the China Daily reported.

A plan to change the system of re-education through labor, or laojiao, has been listed in the legislative plan for the annual session of the largely rubber-stamp parliament since 2005, but has been pushed aside because of disagreements.

The announcement that it is being considered again contradicts comments made last month by China’s top security chief, Luo Gan, who wrote in the Communist Party’s leading journal that the system should be advanced, not scrapped.

But the China Daily said in an editorial that China could not afford “foot-dragging” on the issue, saying keeping re-education through labor was not in the country’s interest.

“The system’s inadequate concern for civil rights as well as lack of jurisprudence protection have made it increasingly out of step with the country’s progress in protecting human rights,” the editorial said.

Laojiao also gave police “unrestrained latitude” in deciding the term of re-education and the lack of oversight made suspects vulnerable, it said.