China / Society

Labor camp system reform renders salute to Constitution

(Xinhua) Updated: 2013-01-10 00:49

BEIJING - An imminent reform of China's re-education through labor system sheds new light on the nation's vision for ruling by law as it will contribute to maintaining constitutional rights.

This year the government will push the reform of this controversial system which allows police to detain people for up to four years without an open trial, according to the national political and legal work conference concluded here on Tuesday.

Social tensions have been growing in recent years with China's rapid economic development, partly because people's awareness of human rights has increased while the nation's legal reforms have lagged behind.

The re-education through labor system was approved by the top legislature and established in the 1950s, a time when the Communist Party of China was consolidating the newly founded republic and rectifying social order.

Whereas the system was modified to include more regulations from the end of the 1970s to the early 1980s, many experts believe it contradicts higher-level laws including the Constitution.

To accommodate the broad changes that have taken place in China's social and economic spheres, the Constitution was amended four times from 1988 to 2004, with notable amendments including those that emphasize the protection of human rights and citizens' private property.

Re-education through labor, however, runs contrary to those amendments as many cases have shown that it has been misused to persecute innocent people and illegally punish protestors.

Last August, for example, a woman named Tang Hui in central China's Hunan Province was sentenced to 18 months in a labor camp after demanding tougher penalties for the seven men convicted of abducting, raping and prostituting her 11-year-old daughter. She was released within a week following complaints from academics, state media and the public.

Expectations are high for reform and the nation's new leadership must now gets real about this issue. The problem, however, is how to prevent abuses of power as some officials are obsessed with rule by man, which was practiced in China for thousands of years and runs contrary to the rule of law.

A recent example is the Bo Xilai case, which has led the public to question whether individual officials can be restrained by the law when they become too powerful.

Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping has called for a fight against injustice and corruption to ensure "justice in each judicial case." This requires wisdom and courage among those in charge of making and enforcing law, and whether they can make it remains to be seen.

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