Secretary Meng Jianzhu said the decision about the future of labor camps would be finalized by the Standing Committee when the National People’s Congress holds its annual meeting in March.
Modeled after Josef Stalin’s gulags, Mao Zedong established a system of labor camps in the 1950's to detain and retrain anyone from religious dissidents to petty thieves. China's Bureau of Re-education through Labor admitted the existence of 350 labor camps across China; the camps held 160,000 people in 2008, which was the last time official figures for detainees were even available.
Hu Jia, an activist who was imprisoned in the camps for three and a half years, said that abolishing re-education through labor was only the first step for a country with many other forms of inhumane punishments, according to UCA News.
Jia said that even without labor camps, there are still many "dark jails" outside the rule of law that could "diagnose" anyone as a psychotic in order to put them into a mental institution.
Further, the end of re-education through labor camps would make little difference for religious freedom in China, according to an anonymous Roman Catholic Bishop who claimed he was subjected to forced study sessions and "sight-seeing" tours by Chinese officials.
“Government officials can still put us under house arrest in 'guesthouses,' which is also outside of the legal process,” he told UCA.
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