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Laojiao facilities in limbo as detention system to end

By Cao Yin | China Daily | Updated: 2013-11-22 07:18

Legal experts have called for urgent legislation to decide how laojiao facilities are to be used in the future, to guarantee an end to the controversial punishment.

China's top leaders vowed to abolish laojiao - a system of re-education through labor in use since the 1950s - in a policy document last week.

The move has been hailed as a boost for human rights in the country, as laojiao enables police to detain people without trial for minor offenses, such as causing a public disturbance.

Yet lawyers and academics say the pledge poses several questions, such as what will happen to the existing facilities and the people who work there.

The first step, said Ying Songnian, should be to cancel the State Council regulation that allows laojiao.

"If the power is removed, the system is abolished," said the professor of administrative law at the China University of Political Science and Law. "It's a thorny issue," he said, warning that without new rules, police could theoretically continue the practice.

Legislators have consulted Ying several times about amending the law, but he said he still does not know when firm action will be taken.

"We have to push lawmakers to put it on the agenda," he said. "We need to ensure police will handle cases in accordance with the rules and provide guidance on transferring the use of laojiao detention facilities."

Jiang Ming'an, a Peking University professor, said delaying revisions to the law could result in more obstacles.

"If we can't provide a clear law, and quickly, the transformation of laojiao facilities will be a mess," he said. "It's possible some facilities may continue to be used to detain people with laojiao sentences."

Re-education through labor centers could still be used as corrective facilities, he said, "but how they work and how long a suspect can be detained are questions that are up in the air".

Legal Evening News reported that the Tuanhe Re-education Through Labor Center in the capital's Daxing district released all its inmates in the summer and has been renamed as a unit of Beijing Prison.

The city's justice bureau, which manages laojiao facilities, declined to comment when contacted by China Daily.

"It's not a good time to discuss the issue," said an official who did not want to be identified. He said his office has "no idea how to reform our work" and is awaiting specific instructions from higher authorities.

At least one laojiao facility in Beijing and others in Yunnan and Hunan provinces have already been converted into centers to treat drug addicts.

"We now provide physical and mental assistance to people with the willingness to quit drugs, rather than punish those who received a laojiao sentence," said Yuan Zhixin at the Beijing Tiantanghe Rehab Center.

Although the facility's purpose was changed at the beginning of the year, he said the nameplate has yet to be changed.

Former laojiao officers were given training in how to help recovering drug addicts, said Song Zhandong, who also works at the center.

Chinese media reported that less than a week after Party leaders announced the decision to abolish laojiao, authorities in Shanghai and the Hunan provincial capital Changsha had released all laojiao inmates and began discussing how to move forward.

"If lawmakers can't legislate quickly, the practical way is to produce an outline that offers guidance on what direction these facilities should take," law professor Ying added.

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