The injustice faced by 25-year-old Ren Jianyu, a village official in Pang Shui county, Chongqing province, who was sentenced to two years labour education for blogging has brought the Re-education Through Labour System into public spotlight. Currently, in October 2012, there are more than 60 thousand people detained in labour education camps all over the country and opinion leaders are calling for an end to the unconstitutional system.
2 years re-education labour for blogging
Ren Jianyu, a graduate from Chongqing Wenli College started his career as a village teacher in Pang Shui County in 2008. Later, in 2009, he decided to apply for the position of village official and began to blog about the frustration he faced in handling village affairs under the pseudo name Xiao Ben. In 2011, he started commenting on current issues on social media platforms and some of his micro-blogs such as “this society is so full of evil people while good people have bad luck. The mission of our generation is to eradicate the evil system and protect goodness”, have become evidence of “state sedition”. (via report from infzm.com [zh])
On 18 of August 2011, he was arrested by Pang Shui Police. Even though the police reported that “there was no evidence that Ren had committed state sedition” and the People's Procuratorate of Chongqing city decided to drop the charge, the Chongqing Re-education Through Labour Committee decided to sentence Ren to two years labour re-education on 23 of September 2011. The so-called evidence of “state sedition” presented by the committee was Ren's micro-blog comments.
Ren tried to file for appeal but no lawyers dared to take up the case until June 2012. Three months after former Chongqing CCP leader Bo Xilai stepped down, Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang approached Ren and took up the appeal case.
As the details of the case were exposed, major CCP mouthpieces, including Global Times and the People's Daily also published commentaries to criticize the Chongqing Committee's decision and call for more freedom of expression.
More than 60 thousands still detained in Re-education Labour Camps
Ren is only one of the 60 thousand plus victims of the Re-education through Labour System who are punished directly by the police authorities rather than through the judicial system. According to the report on ND Daily [zh], currently more than 60 thousand people are detained in Re-education labour camps all over the country and the Central Legal Reform Committee admitted in October 9, 2012 that the System has some procedure defects and should be reformed. While some are pondering whether or not the progressive gesture is a by-product of the power struggle before the up-coming 18th CCP Congress, online opinion leaders, in particular those from the legal field, are pushing for an end to the system rather than reform. 21ccom.net posted an opinion piece [zh] written by Feng Yuxiong:
Who are the people sentenced to re-education through labour? Whose interests had they harmed? According to existing research, the re-education through labour system punishes those people who: refuse to correct their wrongs, such as stealing, causing public disorder; visit petitioners; those who disobey the local government in demolition, mining, household registration, taxi management etc.; suspects of criminal cases who have not been prosecuted because of lack of evidence; those who are engaged in gambling and prostituting activities.
Apart from stealing, which involves public interest, all the above mentioned prosecutions are in violation of human rights as the sole objective is to protect the existing interest bloc and government sectors. The police authorities become some people's servants rather than defenders of people's interests. The reason why the central government has failed to reform the re-education through labour system is because of the strong opposition from police authorities.
Re-education through labour is a social control mechanism developed from the authoritarian era. It is at odds with the idea of “rule of law”. If we allow such an illegal system to exist because of social stability concerns, it indicates that those in power show a lack of confidence in the law. The over-arching constitution becomes a piece of paper. If the ruling elites are manipulating the law, how can people live by the law?
In fact, if we take a closer look at the number of detainees and staff, the Re-education through Labour System has been expanding even though the public are debating whether to reform the system or to abolish it. In the end, the debate will lead to the maintenance of the status quo. If the Re-education Through Labour system is against the law and constitution, it is an evil system and we have to abolish it with no other conditions. If we have to introduce other systems to fill in the gap, that should be another discussion.
An end to the unconstitutional system
Feng's opinion has a lot of echoes in social media. Below are my picks of the discussion [zh]:
Li Zhuang  was labelled as “notorious black lawyer” and Ren Jianyu as “Angry Youth”. Two years later, they become the key person to abolish the Re-education through Labour System. The Chinese society is so full of strange happenings. We should be optimistic for the future. Abolish the Re-education Through Labour System, grant freedom to press and let Mao Tsedong died in peace. Then we can enter a new era.
斯伟江: It is an inarguable fact that the police authorities have abused their power through the Re-education through Labour system. In Chongqing, cases like Ren Jianyu are very extreme. However, a majority of the cases involve very minor offenses such as obstructing police officers’ duty. The offenders do something wrong, but one year restriction of freedom is too much. Such cases are very common in Shanghai, which has better respect of the legal system. Other areas would be far worse than Shanghai.
何兵: My teacher, Jiang Mingan from Beida said that Re-education through Labour does more wrong than good, but it is effective to “re-educate” people. I jokingly said that, listen to your Hunan accent, living among with Beijing people for so many years, you still could not correct your accent. If I put you back together with Hunan people, will that give you a better chance for correction? There are so many “bad people” in Re-education camp, how can you get education? It is a place for nourishing resentment and hatred – grave diggers for the rulers.
租售情报-上海别墅版 Most of the re-educated are petitioners. Why do they petition? Because of local corruption. The officials are covering for each other. It has been like this for thousands of years. Do we still have hope?
肖文军律师: We have been advocating for the abolition of “Re-education Through Labour”. Actually, it has been abolished as the system is illegal. It does not have legal grounds. But such an illegal system continues to survive and grow. Each prosecution is against the law but no one is taking the responsibility. It reflects how weak our legal system is. We don't need a procedure or another set of laws to abolish the system. Its existence is a denial of the rule of law. It is not an issue of abolition.