BEIJING, 04/09/13 -- A Chinese magazine's report on abuses at a notorious labor camp is giving reformers added ammunition in a campaign to abolish a part of the penal system that China's government says needs change.
The report this week in Lens magazine documents the long hours worked
by female inmates at the Masanjia labor camp and the punishments for
breaking rules or not meeting production quotas for cutting fabric,
making button holes, sewing and ironing clothes for apparel makers.
Based on interviews with ex-inmates, prosecutors and former
and current camp officials, the 14-page report describes prisoners being
locked in tiny punishment cells, shocked with electric batons,
handcuffed to two bunk beds with arms stretched wide and bound to a
bench with their backs hunched over and hands and feet cuffed.
While abuses in the labor camps are generally known among the public,
the report – rare in that it appeared in a formally published domestic
magazine – shocked Chinese in its details. Printed in a little-known
magazine, it was posted online, where it quickly spread and became the
most read story Monday on the four biggest news sites before it was
censored and then re-posted on a few sites.
Legal experts and public intellectuals seized on it to renew their
calls to end the punishment centers, known formally as re-education
through labor. "Wait no time to repeal re-education through labor,"
sociologist Yu Jianrong posted on his Twitter-like microblog hosted by
Sina Weibo, which has more than 1.6 million followers.
The Justice Department in Liaoning, the province where Masanjia is
located, referred queries to the provincial Propaganda Department, which
declined comment. A retired Justice Ministry researcher called the
Even so, it lands in the middle of a debate about how and when to
reform a much-disliked practice. Re-education through labor is a small
part of the wider penal system and allows police to imprison people for
as long as four years without a court trial or judge's review. Critics
say the lack of judicial review violates the constitution and in recent
years has increasingly been used by police to silence ordinary Chinese
petitioning to redress grievances against local officials.
The Communist Party leadership installed in November has said it will
reform the system and has promised to introduce plans to do so by the
end of the year. Some legal experts say the Lens report should add to
the momentum for change.
"I have heard about irregularities in the system, but this report
exceeded the baseline of what I knew," said law professor Hou Xinyi of
Nankai University in the city of Tianjin. "I doubt if the top leadership
knows the situation on the ground. If the claims are true, this report
will help the government firm up their determination to resolve the
The abuses reported by Lens at the Masanjia camp match complaints
made by members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement over a decade ago.
Falun Gong practitioners called Masanjia one of the most violent forced
deprogramming centers used by the government to suppress what it says is
Lens is a little-known general interest magazine that prides itself
on contemporary photography. It is part of the SEEC Media Group, a
reputable publisher best known for Caijing, a magazine that features
hard-hitting reporting on business and finance.
The Lens article said inmates at Masanjia, located near the city of
Shenyang about 400 miles northeast of Beijing, smuggled out diaries and
appeals used in the report by hiding them inside body cavities or inside
bars of soap.
It describes a punishing work schedule. Legally, work was supposed to
be restricted to six hours a day and be fairly compensated, but inmates
were frequently forced to work longer hours and were paid 10 yuan
($1.50) a month. State media said Monday that the provincial government
has started an investigation.
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