China will advance reforms to the controversial re-education through labor system this year, according to a national political and legal affairs work conference on Monday.
Secretary of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC Central Committee Meng Jianzhu told the conference that the CPC Central Committee has deliberated over (the reform) and "the system of re-education through labor is expected to come to a stop this year once the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) approves the proposal," the Xinhua News Agency reported Monday.
According to caixin.com, Meng also said that before approval by the NPC Standing Committee, the use of re-education penalties should be strictly controlled, and the system shouldn't be applied to petitioners.
However, Meng's statement on the "stopping" of the system disappeared on major news portals within hours.
Responding to a question about the brief appearance of the news, Qu Xinjiu, a criminal law professor with the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times that "The government has been very careful when dealing with the re-education through labor problem."
"There are loopholes in China's current legal system where people who threaten the safety of others are not necessarily subject to punishment by the law," Qu said. "China may not be fully ready to abolish the re-education policy until we have figured out a way to close the loopholes."
Though it disappeared from the Internet within hours, the news sparked widespread celebration among the public as many hailed the proposed pause in re-education as a sign of progress.
The proposed reform came after a national debate over the validity of the re-education system in 2012, when several cases drew widespread public attention.
"I am thrilled at the news. I think it's a major step forward in judicial reform," Ren Jianyu, a former village official who spent 15 months in a re-education facility for criticizing the Chongqing government's "red song" campaign, told the Global Times Monday.
Ren was released in November due to the efforts of several lawyers after his story made national headlines.
"I don't know whether the authorities will go so far as to abolish the re-education system but I hope they will put an end to detaining people however they please," Ren added.
The current system allows police to detain people for up to four years without an open trial which triggered an enormous outcry as many believe it contradicts the law.
Wang Cheng, a Hangzhou-based lawyer who initiated a public petition in August to appeal for the abolishment of re-education through labor, told the Global Times Monday that an appeal letter sent to the NPC and the State Council with 100,000 signatures in November went unanswered.
"They say they are halting the policy rather than using the word 'abolish,' which means this is only a transitional move, as authorities felt pressure to respond to public appeals, but currently they're unable to decide on a thorough plan to make changes," Wang said.
According to the Procuratoral Daily, Wang Gongyi, former director of a research institute under the Ministry of Justice, said in October that more than 60,000 people were undergoing re-education through labor programs, and the number once reached around 300,000.
Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer who has defended several victims of the re-education system, told the Global Times on Monday that halting the policy alone is not enough. "The policy is a severe violation of human rights and needs to be abolished," Pu said.