Top Chinese leaders Xi Jinping (C), Li Keqiang (3rd R), Zhang Dejiang (3th L), Yu Zhengsheng (2nd R), Liu Yunshan (2nd L), Wang Qishan (1st R), Zhang Gaoli (1st L) attend the third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 12, 2013. The session lasted from Nov. 9 to 12. (Xinhua/Lan Hongguang)
BEIJING, Nov. 15 (Xinhua) -- China will abolish the "reeducation through labor" system as part of a major effort to protect human rights, said a key policy document of the Communist Party of China (CPC) published Friday.
The decision, approved by the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee on Tuesday, was seen as a detailed reform plan for China in the coming decades.
The controversial correction system, commonly known as "Laojiao," began in the 1950s. The program usually takes in minor offenders whose offence is not severe enough to take them to court.
Currently a Laojiao committee consists of government departments such as police, civil affairs and education departments. It is able to detain people for up to four years without an open trial.
Wang Gongyi, a former senior researcher with the Ministry of Justice, told Xinhua that in practice there are no rigid procedures to regulate how the committee should decide the criminal facts and the application of punishment.
"It is not good for human rights protection to deprive a citizen of his personal freedom without a court proceeding," Wang said.
The Laojiao program has caused several highly controversial incidents in the last few years.
Village official Ren Jianyu in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality was put in the Laojiao program on a two-year term for "spreading negative information and inciting the subversion of state power" in 2011.
His case drew nationwide attention and the local committee later revoked his sentence and released him in November last year after he had served half of the sentence.
Another widely known case is Tang Hui, a 40-year-old mother who was put in the program in central China's Hunan Province, for petitioning for harsher punishments for those found guilty of raping her daughter and forcing her into prostitution.
In July, a high court in Hunan ruled in favor of her when she sued the local authority for infringing upon her personal freedom and causing psychological damage.
Legal experts have widely criticized the program and argued that it contradicts laws.
Under China's Criminal Law, the lightest penalty is three months to two years of home arrest under surveillance. And the second lightest is one to six months in a police detention facility.
"This means, sometimes the Laojiao program can be harsher than a penalty imposed by a court," said Professor Chen Weidong, with Renmin University of China. "That's why some minor offenders would rather be prosecuted."
Although the CPC has made the decision, the Laojiao program will not be formally abolished until the top legislature amends the laws.
Yi Xiangde, research fellow with the Institute of Law of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Xinhua that both the courts and government will also have to issue new rules.
"We will need judicial explanations on how to punish minor offenders. The Ministry of Justice will need to speed up community correction programs to fill in the blanks after the Laojiao program is abolished," Yi said.
Last month, Zhou Qiang, president of the Supreme People's Court, called on courts at all levels to shorten the process of hearing and concluding minor criminal cases, and promote community correction programs.
According to the decision, laws relating to correction and punishment will be improved. Community correction which helps convicts return to society will also be improved.
China introduced community correction programs in 2003. So far about 620,000 offenders are in the program and the recidivism rate remains at 0.2 percent.
JUDICIAL EFFORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The decision made a number of other promises to improve human rights in the judicial system.
China will also reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty "step by step," it said.
The last time China reduced the number of crimes punishable by death was in 2011. A revision to the Criminal Law reduced it by 13 to 55. It was also the first time since the Criminal Law took effect in 1979.
The country will work to ban extorting confessions through torture and physical abuse, the document said.
Courts will be told to tighten the practice of ruling out illegally obtained evidence, while law enforcement agencies will regulate procedures of sealing up, seizing, freezing and handling properties involved in judicial investigations.
Wrong judgements will be prevented and corrected in a better way and those responsible will be investigated and could face punishment.
The country will also work to improve legal aid for citizens.
"Lawyers will play an important role in protecting the legal rights and interests of citizens and corporations in line with the law," the document said.
Their rights to practice will be protected and their malpractice will be punished under improved systems, it said.
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