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Will China end prison labor camps?

'Reeducation through labor' has long allowed China to control dissent while circumventing the legal system. Critics worry about a cosmetic change that may make it harder to monitor human rights violations.

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China appears poised to end an inglorious history of labor camps, and the practice of “reeducation through labor.”

This week, Beijing officially elliptically leaked that they may reform the decades-old system, which gives police and other officials power to detain people up to four years without charge or having to go through the legal system.

It appears that mounting dissatisfaction among citizens and lawyers with justice in China has brought about a potential moment in the Middle Kingdom, and new leaders in Beijing are giving it some attentionYet whether China will seize this moment and conduct real reform, close the camps, and stop incarcerating people without trial is unclear.

One concern, say longtime China justice watchers, is that Beijing may merely retool the policy on labor camps. That is, officials will create new legal measures that appear improved, but that change little – except to make it more difficult for monitors to claim or prove human rights violations.

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