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Academics call for end to China camps

BEIJING -- A group of top Chinese academics and lawyers called Tuesday on the communist government to abolish its labor camp system, saying the penal institutions violated basic human rights and the constitution.

The call by 43 academics and lawyers was led by Mao Yushi, a legal scholar and economist at the prestigious China Academy of Social Sciences, and was addressed to the State Council, China’s Cabinet.

The open letter said China’s “re-education through labor” system was unconstitutional as it deprived the rights of those jailed to judicial procedures, a public trial and the right of appeal.

It was dated Tuesday, on China’s annual “law propaganda day,” and widely distributed on the Internet by the rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

“The re-education through labor system has existed for over 50 years but now runs against the trends of the times and is a serious obstacle to the improvement of the state legal system,” He Weifang, a Beijing University legal scholar who signed the letter, told AFP.

“Essentially (penal) judgments are made by the police or the political leaders of the (Communist) party, which is a clear violation of the constitution.”

Besides violating constitutional guarantees to personal freedom, the system also contradicts Chinese laws as well as international human rights conventions signed by China, he said.

Other signers included Yu Meisun, a former secretary in the State Council office, Guo Shiyou, a law professor at the China Politics and Law University and Zhang Ming, a legal scholar at People’s University.

China’s “re-education through labor” system has long been viewed as part of an institutionalized form of human rights abuse by international rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The United Nation’s human rights commission has regularly urged China to abolish the system.

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