The Laogai Research Foundation provides comprehensive information on China's system of labor camps. It provides the following definitions: Laogai is "reform through labor" and laojiao is "reeducation through labor" [aka reeducation through labor - RTL], a component of the Laogai system. The laojiao "reeducation through labor" allows for the arrest and detention of petty criminals for up to three years without formal charge of trial, and this system is not considered by the Chinese government to qualify as a prison.
The entire Laogai system was composed of approximately one thousand camps by one estimate. The legislative framework for the institution of the Laogai was established in 1954 as part of the “Regulations on Reform through Labor”. The Handbook states that because of the closed and secret nature of the Laogai system, it is impossible to provide a precise and accurate record of the exact number of laogai camps and the number of inmates who are detained therein. The Chinese government authorities consider that data pertaining to the laogai system are state secrets and for this reason do not allow outside entities to access these camps. Moreover, the Laogai Research Foundation Handbook states that it does not contain data about detention centres, which are usually run by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) at the village, township and county levels.
Laogai production using unskilled labor has included hydroelectric dams, roads, wasteland reclamation, and building construction. Six basic types of organizational units fall within the Laogai system: prisons, usually located near large and medium-sized cities; labor reform battalions, usually located in the countryside; re-education through labor battalions; forced job placement battalions comprised of ex-prisoners who have served their sentences and are kept on in internal exile; detention centers for people not yet charged; and juvenile facilities.
The Laogai system includes three prisoner types: those formally arrested, charged, and found guilty of criminal acts who are sentenced to labor reform; those administratively sentenced to re-education through labor by public security forces without judicial review; and individuals required to remain within the confines of a Laogai camp following the completion of their sentence under the policy of forced job placement.
The Government detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison terms many religious leaders and adherents for activities related to their religious practice; however, the Government denied detaining or arresting anyone solely because of his or her religion. Local authorities often used an administrative process, through which citizens may be sentenced by a non-judicial panel of police and local authorities to up to three years in reeducation through labor (RTL) camps, to punish members of unregistered religious groups.
Published estimates of the number of labor camps ranged from 1,000 to 5,000, and estimates of the total number in camps vary widely from 2 to 21 million. According to official government sources, the total value of goods produced by nonlabor re-education prisoners approximated $1.5 billion in 1988.
In 2009, the Government reported that there a total of 190,000 individuals were being held in 320 RTL camps throughout the country. The Laogai Research Foundation has estimated that there may be 500,000 to 2 million individuals in RTL camps. In some areas security authorities used threats, demolition of unregistered property, extortion, interrogation, detention, physical attacks, and torture to harass leaders of unauthorized groups and their followers.
Most Laogai camps have two names: a public/commercial name such as Qinghe Knitting Mill (usually an enterprise name) and an internal administrative name such as Beijing Municipal No. 1 Prison.
Labor re-education camps opened in 1957. The system became a quick, easy way for the police to imprison people in infractions that violate the social order. Critics say the system gives the police so much latitude that they can arbitrarily choose whether to file criminal charges against someone or simply place that person in labor re-education.
Conditions and treatment in the more than 300 prisons in the system are said to vary. All inmates are expected to do some type of factory work or manual labor. Some imprisoned intellectuals have described fairly mild conditions, while other people have reported much harsher treatment.
Chinese use of prison labor continues to be cited in discussions of Chinese human rights abuses and US-China trade, even following the 2013 announcement by the Chinese government that it was abolishing the so-called “Re-education Through Labor” system, with observers noting that many existing prisons are simply being re-named “rehabilitation” centers. On 07 January 2013 state media quoted Politburo member Meng Jianzhu as saying China would stop using the decades-old labor camp system later this year. China's official Xinhua news agency re-published the CCTV report before it was removed from both the Xinhua and CCTV websites several hours later without explanation. Chinese authorities often order the removal of Internet content that they fear could encourage dissent against the government. Xinhua later published a report saying the Chinese government is committed to "reforming" the labor camp system this year under the leadership of its new Communist Party chief Xi Jinping. No other details were provided.
The Global Times, which reflects official opinion, quoted legal experts as saying the "re-education through labor" system most likely will be replaced by a "rectification through education" system. The report said four cities in China have begun "undertaking pilot schemes" for the new rectification program. It said the program would "entitle offenders to defend themselves with the help of lawyers at courts and appeal their sentences."
Chinese authorities use the labor camps to detain prostitutes, drug addicts and other petty criminals for up to four years without putting them on trial in the country's overloaded courts. China now refers to the laogai simply as the prison system administration. It does not publish formal information about its prison population, but the Justice Ministry estimated about 1.5 million people were behind bars in 2005.
In China prisoners can be executed for crimes such as rape, robbery, drug dealing, and black market activities, in addition to murder. It is extremely rare for those accused not to be found guilty. As soon as the prisoners are sentenced, blood samples are taken for grouping. The prisoners' appeals are hardly ever upheld. They find this out only when they are taken to be shot. Ambulances wait at the site of the executions, and the fresh organs from healthy young persons are harvested, to be transplanted into recipients from abroad.
On 27 June 2001 Thomas Diflo, a New York transplant surgeon, Wang Guoqui, a Chinese doctor who had taken kidneys and skin from recently executed prisoners, and Harry Wu of the Laogai Association gave evidence to the committee on international relations of the United States House of Representatives in Washington, DC. They noted that in China, organs are taken from recently executed prisoners, to be transplanted into recipients from the United States, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, and other countries. The recipients pay $17,000-40,000 each. It was not known whether the executed prisoners had given their consent.
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