The case of Tang Hui, whose 11-year-old daughter was abducted, raped, and sold as a child prostitute before being freed, has caused public fury after Tang was arrested and sent to a reeducation-through-labor center for a year and a half after she repeatedly protested, calling for the criminals involved to receive harsher sentences. Tang has been released after a mass outcry, but does the case show the flaws in the reeducation-through-labor system itself? Is it time to abolish China's networks of extra-judicial punishment?
Illustration: Sun Ying
The reeducation-through-labor system is a peculiarly Chinese punitive measure. Public security organs can arrest suspects and imprison them in reeducation-through-labor centers for up to four years without them ever seeing a court.
Nowadays, the system has become a disharmonious element in our harmonious society. It should be abolished.
Under current legal circumstances, abolishing the system will have little negative impact on establishing a harmonious society.
It is of great significance to protecting human rights, maintaining social stability and enhancing humane management.
China's reeducation-through-labor system was established at the 78th meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on August 1 1957. The purpose was to resolve contradictions among the people and to arrange employment for people who had made mistakes. Under these historical conditions, the system had its place.
Admittedly, over the past six decades, the system has played a certain role in maintaining public order and reducing and preventing crime.
However, with the increasing pace of establishing the socialist society under the rule of law, a series of regulations have been put forward. The system no longer conforms to the state's actual conditions.
Also, it is unconstitutional. According to Article 33 of Constitution of the People's Republic of China, every citizen enjoys the rights and at the same time must perform the duties prescribed by the Constitution and the law.
Article 37 states that freedom of person is inviolable. No citizen may be arrested except with the approval or by the decision of a people's procuratorate or a people's court, and arrests must be made by a public security organ.
In addition, unlawful deprivation or restriction of citizens' freedom of person by detention or other means is prohibited, and unlawful search of the person of citizens is prohibited.
However, in the reeducation-through-labor system, public security organs can restrict citizens' freedom for a long time without approval by a people's procuratorate or a decision by a people's court.
Only the public security organs have a say in this system. They have the authority to approve decisions, but they also supervise the process. With a stroke of the pen, they can keep citizens in reeducation-through-labor centers for up to four years.
The system has also caused confusion in the application of various laws.
For instance, the conditions for sending people to labor centers for illegal activities overlap with those of the Law on Public Security Administration and Punishment, so that the same misdemeanor is regulated by two different legal rules.
This actually has seriously contravened China's judicial principles.
China is now in a critical period of reform and opening-up. Conflicts of interests lead to social contradictions. Some local government officials try to make a good impression to higher authorities by restricting appealing. This kind of actions will not help solve problems but ends up hiding more dangers.
After almost 60 years' development, it is high time for the reeducation-through-labor system to step off the stage of history. Abolishing the system brooks no delay.
The author is a lawyer at Beijing Lianggao Law Firm. firstname.lastname@example.org