A bill to reform the institution of laojiao, the conviction to many years (up
to four) of hard labour with no trial for citizens considered counter-revolutionary
or antisocial, will be presented at the National People Assembly next Monday in
Beijing. The Chinese parliament wants to maintain the conviction, but reduce the
sentence duration to maximum one year and render the labour camps more similar
to schools than to prisons: bars and barbed wires will be removed and the denomination
will change from “re-education centres” to “correction centres”. Therefore it
is not an abolition of laojiao, as emphatically quoted by many newspapers, although
it is a first important step forward.
Conviction without a trial.
Introduced in 1957, the laojiao must not be confused with laodong, the hard
labour inflicted to criminals after a criminal trial. “Re-education through labour”
– this is the meaning of laojiao – is a fine imposed by authorities without going
through a court, with no defence or appeal: this makes laojiao an institution
even more against civil rights, as any limitation of personal freedom should be
ordered only by a judge after a regular trial. With laojiao, instead, one is arrested
by police at home without notice and taken to a labour camp without any possibility
of reply. A possibility that could now be introduced.
Not only hard labour.
Among the at least 300 thousand Chinese who work in the about 300 laojiao camps
we find small common criminals (thieves, swindlers, prostitutes, drug addicts,
illegal immigrants) but above all political dissidents of every kind, from democratic
militants, to Falun Gong followers, from human rights defenders to petition signers.
By working in the camps, mines or brick factories under constant police surveillance,
these people should “re-educate”, that is regret their behaviours, becoming respectful
of law and party, devoted to the construction of socialism. For those not changing
their mind or, even worse, protesting or not respecting the camp discipline rules,
there are penalty extension and corporal punishment: solitary confinement, collective
beatings, tortures with electric shocks. The extension will not be possible any
more, but punishments will.