Victims of re-education through labor system deserve justice

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-1-28 21:12:02

A wife and mother who claims to have been unjustly punished for petitioning has put China's controversial petitioning and re-education through labor systems in the spotlight once again.

Chen Qingxia has been under house arrest in the city of Yichun in northeast China's Heilongjiang province since traveling to Beijing more than three years ago.

Local authorities sought to punish her for petitioning in Beijing, where she traveled to seek justice for her husband's mistreatment at a re-education through labor camp.

Chen claims that her husband was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when he was sentenced to serve at the camp for damaging public property. Her only son went missing in Beijing during their trip to the city.

Chen's story, as well as those of others, have served to draw public attention to the petioning and re-education for labor camp systems amid official discussions about overhauling and reforming the systems.

The petitioning system was institutionalized in China's early years, when legislative, judiciary and supervisory efforts were inadequate and protests were rarely heard of.

Re-education through labor camps, which allow police to detain people for up to four years without an open trial, were created as a result of similar conditions.

Decades later, both systems are facing a new political and social environment.

China's legendary economic growth has witnessed a parallel increase in social tension. More Chinese are realizing that the country's economic gains have not been passed on to them, but have been concentrated in the hands of a corrupt elite. Their awareness of human rights has increased, but the nation's legal reforms have lagged behind.

The public deserves a reliable channel through which to voice their complaints. Petitioning, however, has proven to be ineffective in making their wishes known and met, particularly in recent years.

Local authorities largely consider petitioners to be troublemakers and go to great lengths to stop them under the name of "maintaining stability."

Media reports have shown that some petitioners, such as Chen, even end up in re-education through labor camps themselves.

Tang Hui, a woman from central China's Hunan province, was sentenced to 18 months in a labor camp after demanding tougher penalties for the seven men convicted of abducting, raping and prostituting her teenage daughter.

She was released within a week following complaints from academics, state media and the public.

Chen and Tang have touched the public's nerve and forced local authorities to face significant criticism from the country's citizens.

The women's stories pose a challenge for the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) as it seeks to build social harmony: how can local authorites be prevented from abusing their power?

Top CPC leader Xi Jinping vowed last week to "put power in a cage" by creating more rules and regulations. Such restrictions of power are needed no more greatly than in areas where petitioning and re-education through labor are concerned.

Although central authorities have stated that they will reform the re-education through labor system, as well as warned local authorities to refrain from preventing petitioners from exercising their rights, it is not yet known if they will back up their words with concrete action.

People like Tang and Chen, as well as others whose voices may never be heard, are depending on the government to right its wrongs and prevent such cases from ever occurring again.

Posted in: Voices

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