China / Politics

Laojiaosystem to be phased out

By ZHAO YINAN (China Daily) Updated: 2013-01-21 02:07

The use of the controversial laojiao system will be tightly restricted, with lawmakers expected to approve its abolition this year.

Chen Jiping, deputy director of the China Law Society, said the changes to laojiao, or re-education through labor, announced at the national political and legal work conference on Jan 7, are imminent.

As part of discussions with legal experts from law societies nationwide about the major tasks, he said the closed-door conference had committed to reducing the use of the controversial punishment this year until the National People's Congress, the top legislature, can entirely scrap the system.

Ending the system requires the approval of the top legislature which originally endorsed laojiao in 1957, when it was proposed by the State Council.

Before it can be halted, police are urged to find alternative penalties for the people who would otherwise have received laojiao, Chen said.

Chen's remarks suggest offenders are likely instead to get a court hearing, short-term detention or a fine, experts said.

Re-education through labor made its contribution at a time when the Communist Party of China was consolidating the new republic and rectifying social order, but now China has well-established legal systems and has alternative means of punishment, such as community correction, so it will be fine to stop using laojiao at a proper time, he said.

"Optional penalties, such as community correction, which allows minor offenders to receive correctional education at a local community, enables law enforcement officers to punish wrongdoers through other means," he said.

The legitimacy of laojiao, which can involve confining people for up to four years without an open trial, has been the subject of wide public speculation since several disputed cases came to public attention last year.

Tang Hui, the mother of a rape victim, who was at the center of one of the most high-profile cases, is working with a team sent by the Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the Party's Hunan committee on Friday to investigate the decision to punish her to laojiao last summer.

She said she hopes the investigation can be more objective than the previous one.

Tang was sentenced to 18 months laojiao by the city of Yongzhou in August after she demanded death penalties for all seven men convicted of abducting, raping and forcing her 11-year-old daughter into prostitution.

The 40-year-old mother was released within a week after academics, the media and members of the public questioned the decision. She accused two police officers in Yongzhou of taking part in raping her daughter, and forcing the girl into prostitution, but they were not convicted.

The Yongzhou public security bureau did not respond to questions faxed to the department as of 7 pm on Sunday.

Xu Liping, Tang's lawyer, said he is drafting a lawsuit for Tang and is planning to file the suit this week, after authorities rejected Tang's demand for State compensation for the time she spent in a labor camp.

The city's laojiao committee turned down Tang's previous request for compensation of 2,400 yuan ($380), arguing the decision "was withdrawn, not because it was wrong, but out of humanitarian concerns".

Wang Gongyi, director of the Ministry of Justice's research office, said in October that China has about 60,000 people serving laojiao sentences, most from six months to a year.

Feng Zhiwei and Wen Xinzheng in Changsha contributed to this story.

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