China Turns Labor Camps Into Forced Drug Rehab Centers

In an effort to appease human rights concerns over antiquated
and inhumane forms of punishment, China’s central government
announced last month that it will abolish its infamous forced labor
camps. The oppressive camps are not actually going away though:
they are being
turned into forced drug rehabilitation

The announcment came after the conclusion
of the
Third Plenary meeting
 of the Communist Party, a
gathering of China’s top policymakers and political leaders, when
the government issued a press release detailing its plans to
curtail the country’s human rights abuses by enacting
“comprehensive reform.”  

The reforms
include (allegedly) putting an end to forced labor camps, or the
“laojiao” system, as well as the one-child policy. 

The laojiao system has been the subject of intense criticism
from human
rights groups
 and Chinese
 for decades. Established in 1957, the camps
detain petty criminal offenders, drug users, and political and
religious dissidents for up to four years without trial. Inmates
spend their days working long hours in unsafe factory conditions.
And they’re widespread: In a 2009 report to a United Nations human
rights forum, the Chinese government acknowledged
the existence of 320 facilities nationwide holding 190,000

However, according to a new report from Reuters, the
camps will remain largely in tact for drug users. From the

Many of China’s re-education through labor camps, instead of
being abolished in line with a ruling Communist Party announcement
this month, are being turned into compulsory drug rehabilitation
centers where inmates can be incarcerated for two years or more
without trial.

Human rights activists and freed inmates said drug offenders
were still being forced to do factory work, as has been the
practice under the re-education through labor system.

New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates more than 60 percent
of the 160,000 people in labor camps at the start of the year were
there for drug offenses. Those people were unlikely to see any
change in their treatment, it said.

“The drug detox people are doing exactly the same work,” said
Li, who spent 19 months in a labor camp in Kunming, the capital of
southern Yunnan province.

Government websites and
state media
have detailed the transition, as many camps have
started to change their names and re-train staff. But they describe
the new policy as a form of compassionate treatment for addicts,
rather than a continuation of forced labor. 

In the
Shanghai Daily
, Kong Shuhua, director of
Xishuangbanna’s Justice Bureau, said, “The new rehab center
will provide compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment for addicts,
and help them find self confidence again.”

The policy is part of China’s escalating crackdown on illicit
drug consumers.

According to the
, the influx of recreational drugs into China,
(which is a product of “more relaxed borders, increased wealth, and
greater individual freedoms,”) has resulted in frequent
record-breaking drug busts. In 2008, the government implemented an

anti-drug law
that severely criminalized users. Anyone caught
using a classified drug, such as cocaine, heroin, or marijuana,
would be labelled an “addict” in the state’s official reigstry and
shipped to a labor camp.

In 2010, Human Rights Watch released a
 outlining the conditions in China’s drug
“rehabilition” centers:

Individuals detained in some drug detention centers are
routinely beaten, denied medical treatment, and forced to work up
to 18 hours a day without pay. Although sentenced to
“rehabilitation,” they are denied access to effective drug
dependency treatment and provided no opportunity to learn skills to
reintegrate into the community.

Jiang Tianyong, a human rights lawyer in Beijing,
Reuters, “It’s wrong to say [the announced
end of forced labor camps] has no meaning, but it’s too optimistic
to think it will change a lot.”

“This is how power in this country operates,” he continued.
“They can’t use re-education through labor camps to control people,
so they just change the name and control people.”

from Hit & Run

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