The city of Guangzhou, China has announced it is taking the first steps toward dismantling the country’s infamous “Re-education Through Labor” (RLT) system, according to CNN reports.
Guangzhou is the third largest city in China and capital of its richest and most progressive province of Guangdong.
All detainees in the city under the “laojiao” or RTL system will be released by the end of this year, a senior judge told the state-run China Daily.
“The police and many legal experts have realized the drawbacks of laojiao and called to abolish the system, which has become outdated,” said Yu Mingyong, deputy president of Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court.
“Many of those released from laojiao find many difficulties returning to society, families and work after … their personal freedom has been restricted in labor camps for several years,” he said.
Guangzhou still has about 100 people in labor camps, he added.
Although Human Rights Watch welcomed the news, it pointed out that there were actually few RTL camps and detainees in cities. It said Guangdong Province has up to 18,000 detainees held in facilities throughout the rest of the province.
HRW says the changes are only cosmetic and that the labor camps are just being relabeled drug detox centers.
The Re-education Through Labor camps were originally set up by Mao Zedong in the 1950s in an attempt to reform offenders through hard labor and Marxist indoctrination.
Using the Soviet gulag as a model, “counter-revolutionaries” and “class enemies” could be detained in the labor prison camps without trial.
It is believed that millions died in the camps due to overwork, harsh conditions, and suicide. In the 1970s Deng Xiaoping reformed the system by releasing prisoners accused of political and religious crimes.
According to figures from the Chinese government, 160,000 people were being held in 350 re-education through labor camps nationwide at the end of 2008.
Today police can imprison accused offenders such as petty thieves, prostitutes, and drug abusers for up to four years without a trial. Image/China Foto Press