By Xinhua writer Ren Ke
BEIJING, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- After prolonged public complaints and a series of scandals, China's controversial re-education through labor system will finally be reformed, a move that is inevitable as the country endeavors to improve human rights and its legal and judicial system.
Earlier this week, Jiang Wei, a senior official in charge of China's judicial system reform, said the country is formulating reforms for the re-education through labor system, adding that the necessity of the reform has been recognized and a plan for the reforms is being developed.
Although the system has its basis in the country's legal system and has played an important role in maintaining social order, Jiang admitted some loopholes currently exist in the system's regulations and procedures.
China's re-education through labor system was approved by the top legislature and established in the 1950s, a time when the Communist Party of China (CPC) was consolidating the newly-founded republic and rectifying social order. From the end of the 1970s to the early 1980s, the system was modified to include more regulations.
According to an article published in July 2011 on the official website of the Bureau of Re-education Through Labor Administration under the Ministry of Justice, as of the end of 2008, 160,000 people were imprisoned in 350 re-education through labor centers nationwide.
The system was designed to maintain social order, prevent and reduce crimes by reforming people who committed minor offenses but were not punishable by the penal code. It did play an important role in maintaining social order in specific periods, however, with the development of society and the legal system, its defects have become more and more evident.
The system allows police to detain people for up to four years without trial, leading many experts to believe that the system contradicts higher-level laws, including the Constitution.
The system also provides authorities with loopholes for abuse of power due to its unclearly defined nature, as well as insufficient monitoring and restrictions in its approval procedures.
The system does not tally with the overall human rights situation in China. The country has strengthened its efforts to improve human rights in recent years, with two human rights action plans created since 2009.
In the latest human rights action plan (2012-2015) published in June, the government promised to develop a socialist democracy, improve the socialist rule of law and guarantee people's civil and political rights in an all-around way.
Many cases have shown that the labor re-education system has been misused to persecute innocent people and illegally punish protestors. The system has infringed on human rights and the rule of law, undermining the government's accountability.
A notable recent case occurred in August in central China's Hunan province, where a woman was sentenced to 18 months in a re-education through labor center after she demanded tougher penalties for seven men who were convicted of abducting, raping and prostituting her 11-year-old daughter.
Tang Hui, the mother, was released within a week following an outcry from academics, public opinion leaders and state media.
The system has drawn increasingly wide and fierce criticism from the public for years and the need for reform is more necessary at present.
China last year announced the successful formation of a socialist system of law with Chinese characteristics. The country also amended its Criminal Procedural Law this year, and the phrase "respecting and protecting human rights" is included in the revised law.
In fact, there are precedents indicating that laws and regulations have been changed over time. In 2003, a regulation forcing urban homeless to enter government-run holding and deportation stations and leave the cities for their hometowns was replaced by a new system that provides aid and services for homeless people.
The change was made following the death of a man in one of the centers.
On March 17, 2003, Sun Zhigang was detained at the Guangzhou Police Holding Center after police found that he had no identification. He was later beaten to death in detention.
Sun's death aroused nationwide attention and triggered reforms for the country's decades-old homeless collection and dispatching system, which violated human rights by restricting personal freedom.
Now it's time to reform the re-education through labor system, as it does not accord with the spirit of rule of law under current circumstances.