Skip to main content

Amnesty report: China's abolition of labor camps a 'cosmetic change'

By Katie Hunt, CNN
updated 9:35 PM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amnesty says China's move to abolish labor camps may be a cosmetic change
  • Rights groups says Chinese authorities are expanding use of other types of arbitrary detention
  • China said on November 15 that it would close its labor camp system
  • NEW: Chinese government declines to comment on the report

Hong Kong (CNN) -- China's move to abolish re-education through labor camps -- under which tens of thousands have been imprisoned without trial -- may be no more than a cosmetic change, a new report from Amnesty International warns.

The human rights group says that while labor camps are being shut, research suggested that authorities are expanding the use of "black jails," enforced drug rehabilitation clinics and "brainwashing centers" to take their place.

"There is a very real risk that the Chinese authorities will abolish one system of arbitrary detention only to expand the use of other types," the report said.

A spokesman from China's Ministry of Justice declined to comment on the Amnesty report.

Secret letter found inside Halloween toy

Corinna-Barbara Francis, Amnesty International's China researcher, said the abolishment may only be a "cosmetic change just to avert the public outcry over the abusive re-education through labor system."

China said on November 15 that it would close its labor camps after earlier putting the policy under review, with the move hailed as the biggest change to China's criminal justice system in decades.

Detention without trial

The system was set up in 1950s and allows police to detain petty offenders -- such as thieves, prostitutes and drug addicts -- for up to four years without a trial.

READ: China to abolish labor camps, report says

According to China's Ministry of Justice, the country had 351 labor camps at the end of 2012, with more than 50,000 inmates. Other estimates have put the number of detainees much higher.

The "re-education process" has also been used to punish those detained for their political, religious or personal beliefs -- such as members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement or petitioners with complaints against local officials, Amnesty said.

Torture is said to be rife at the camps.

Detainees have told Amnesty International they were beaten, sometimes with electric batons, denied food, subjected to simulated drowning, injected with unknown drugs and subjected to the "rack" torture."

Brainwashing centers

The report said interviews with petitioners and Falun Gong practitioners revealed abuses were continuing despite the closure of the camps.

READ: Chinese labor camp inmate's Halloween cry for help

Some labor camps were being re-labeled as drug rehabilitation centers and released detainees were being sent to black jails -- unofficial detention centers set up in places like hotels or abandoned buildings -- or "brainwashing centers," another form of arbitrary detention.

Falun Gong practitioner Zhang Zhi told Amnesty International she was released from a labor camp in Harbin in June 2013 but on her release staff from a brainwashing center were waiting for her at the gate. Her family were able to intervene and prevented her from being taken away. She has since gone into hiding.

"The Chinese authorities must immediately end all forms of arbitrary detention and ensure that laws protecting detainees are brought into line with international human rights standards," Francis said.

"This needs to be a fundamental change in the policies that are at the root of the repression and which strip detainees of their most basic rights."

READ: Chinese petitioners claim hotel used as 'black jail'

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:12 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
updated 1:45 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Reforms to the grueling gaokao - the competitive college entrance examination - don't make the grade, says educator Jiang Xueqin.
updated 8:18 AM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Beijing grapples with reports from Iraq that a Chinese national fighting for ISIS has been captured.
updated 10:00 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
CNN's David McKenzie has tasted everything from worms to grasshoppers while on the road; China's cockroaches are his latest culinary adventure.
updated 8:57 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
Beijing rules only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive.
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
China warns the United States to end its military surveillance flights near Chinese territory.
updated 11:12 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
China has produced elite national athletes but some argue the emphasis on winning discourages children. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports
updated 1:13 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Chinese are turning to overseas personal shoppers to get their hands on luxury goods at lower prices.
updated 5:08 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Experts say rapidly rising numbers of Christians are making it harder for authorities to control the religion's spread.
updated 12:52 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
"I'm proud of their moral standing," says Harvey Humphrey. His parents are accused of corporate crimes in China.
updated 3:42 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A TV confession detailing a life of illegal gambling and paid-for sex has capped the dramatic fall of one of China's most high-profile social media celebrities.
updated 12:10 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Xi Jinping's campaign to punish corrupt Chinese officials has snared its biggest target -- where can the campaign go from here?
updated 3:12 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
All you need to know about the tainted meat produce that affects fast food restaurants across China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
updated 10:30 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
updated 5:11 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Is the Chinese president a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
updated 11:44 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
ADVERTISEMENT