CHINE

Chinese “re-education camps” change name, but practices remain

 This fall, Chinese authorities announced the abolition of “re-education through work” camps (“laojiao”), believed to be centres where dissidents are arbitrarily detained and tortured. However, some recent detainees report that these centres still exist but under a different name.

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An “admonition and education centre for abnormal petitioners” in Zhengyang.

 

 

This fall, Chinese authorities announced the abolition of “re-education through work” camps (“laojiao”), believed to be centres where dissidents are arbitrarily detained and tortured. However, some recent detainees report that these centres still exist but under a different name.

 

In November, the Chinese authorities explained that the “laojiao” were “now superfluous” given the “development” of the country’s judicial system. “Re-education through work” camps have been around for decades in China. They served as detention facilities for citizens that had dared to exercise their “right of petition”, a centuries-old right that allows citizens to report abuses committed by local authorities to higher-ranking officials. Very often, local bureaucrats found ways to arrest such petitioners and send them to “laojiao”, without going through any legal procedures.

 

However, Ruan Kaixiang, a resident of Zhengyang district in Henan province, claims that she was detained in late 2013 in a centre in every way similar to a re-education centre, following the passage of the new law. She was first sentenced in 2000 after having had a third child even though the law only allowed one two per couple in the countryside. The young woman launched a petition that caused her to receive a two-year sentence in a “laojiao” camp. Once freed, she launched another petition in 2013, which resulted in another detention. This time, she spent over two months locked in a centre called a “centre for admonition and education of abnormal petitioners” in Zhengyang district, before being freed on January 28.

 

Entrance of the “centre for admonition and education of abnormal petitioners” in Nanyang.

 

According to a statement written by the young woman and uploaded to the Internet by her husband while she was in detention, this centre is not any different from the “laojiao” she had experienced several years prior. Locked in a small, three square-metre cell without windows, Ruan had neither a bed nor access to a toilet.

 

Meanwhile, the official press recognised the existence of this new centre for “admonition and education of abnormal petitioners”. It reported that anyone who dared to “illegally submit a petition to [authorities in] Beijing” will be detained there and will receive “warnings, instruction, and education every hour of the day and night”.

“My mother was not allowed to eat for 24 hours”

Ruan Kaixing’s case is not isolated. Nanyang, another city in Henan province, has also put in place its own “admonition and education” centre. A local resident was detained there after trying to denounce her son’s ill treatment in prison.

 

 

Her petition was considered “abnormal” and so on February 9 she was sent to Nanyang’s new centre. One of her children was able to film her in a cell. In the video, she explains that she was forced to urinate and defecate in a small plastic bag and that she did not go through any legal procedure before being locked up. She was released on February 16, after the video was widely circulated online.

 

 

Yang Jinfen, her daughter, was willing to share her story.

 

My mother was not allowed to eat for 24 hours. She could not access her diabetes medication. Her health deteriorated alarmingly. The centre’s director only bothered to do something about it after my brother protested.

 

In the centre, there are three small cells without any beds. Detainees get filthy sheets, thrown on the floor. As for food, they receive flour-based goods for lunch, but no vegetables. During my visit, I saw two other people between the ages of 50 and 60 who were held in the cells neighbouring my mother’s.

 

My mother was detained as punishment for the petition she submitted. But they didn’t even ask her why she created this petition. As I see it, this so-called “admonition centre” is a disguised “laojiao”.

 

“The system hasn’t changed”

Teng Biao is a lawyer and one of China’s most well-known human rights activists.

 

Even though the centres for re-education through work were formally abolished, arbitrary detention remains common. It is increasingly the case for petitioners, but also other types of people. Among the procedures used by the authorities, there is what is known as the “detention for education” method (Shurong Jiaoyu) for prostitutes and their clients; the “detention for instruction” method (Shourong Jiaoyang) for minors; the “social welfare” centres where homeless people are locked up; as well as the “legal training classes” for Falungong adherents, etc.

 

Despite the many attempts by victims and their lawyers to fight back against the abuse, it seems unlikely that the current situation will improve anytime soon because the system has not changed.

 

The announcement that “laojiao” were being abolished seems to be the result of citizen pressure, but it hasn’t been very effective yet. Our ultimate goal is to abolish all extra-judicial decision-making.

 

When solicited by the Chinese media, representatives for the Petition Offices in Nanyang and Zhumadian (which oversees Zhengyang) refused to comment.