Monday, May 21, 2001

BEIJING — China is giving its labor camps a cosmetic makeover in an attempt to defuse growing international criticism of its laojiao system of re-education through labor.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese are incarcerated without trial each year in 300 laojiao across the country. The camps are one of the most heavily criticized aspects of Chinas human-rights record.
Although Beijing habitually rejects international criticism of the labor camps as hypocritical, it has promised to introduce legislation that will for the first time clearly establish rules for holding people without trial.
Wang Yunshang, a Justice Ministry official, said: “Many areas of the re-education through labor system — its name, targets, procedures and implementation — are in urgent need of improvement. A law on reform through labor is needed.”
He made clear that the new legal framework would bring only superficial changes. Sophia Woodman of Human Rights in China said that the adoption of a new law was unlikely to affect most inmates.
“Its good that Western pressure is having some impact,” she said. “We would like to see the whole system eliminated. I dont think these measures will be sufficient to address the human-rights abuses in re-education through labor.”
When one of the notorious labor camps opened 16 rooms for conjugal visits in March, the Communist Partys propaganda machine was deployed to praise the experiment and suggest that it would be implemented at other centers.
The first lucky batch of prisoners chosen for a trial run of the new model facilities at the Tangang Labor Re-education Center near Guangzhou, were said to have praised the official contribution to easing marital stress among couples who have been separated.
It is said that those chosen for a stay in the wing will enjoy facilities considerably more comfortable than they are used to at home. A dispatch from the prison said each new cell is equipped with a lavatory, television and air-conditioning.
Officials said that allowing husbands and wives to stay with each other would raise morale and so help attempts at re-education.
The more common reality is that detainees are beaten with cattle prods, deprived of food and sleep, and made to endure long hours of questioning by thuggish guards.

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