China labour camps set for abolition: Legal official

BEIJING (AFP) - China's hugely controversial "re-education" labour camps are set to be abolished this year, state media quoted a senior legal official as saying Monday.

It is another signal that the widely criticised system - where people can be sentenced to up to four years' re-education by a police panel, without an open trial - is coming to an end.

The comments come after the Communist Party's newly installed leader Xi Jinping said the organisation recognised as a "pressing problem" that it was "out of touch with the people".

Opponents say the camps are used to silence government critics and would-be petitioners who seek to bring their complaints against officials to higher authorities.

Earlier this month reports emerged briefly that the system - known as laojiao - would be abolished, but they were swiftly deleted and replaced with predictions of reforms, with few details and no timetable.

Mr Chen Jiping, deputy director of the China Law Society, was quoted by the China Daily as saying that a key meeting had agreed to limit use of the system tightly until it could be scrapped by China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC).

It added in reported speech that he described laojiao as having "made its contribution at a time when the Communist Party of China was consolidating the republic and rectifying social order, but now China has well-established legal systems".

"Ending the system requires the approval of the top legislature which originally endorsed laojiao in 1957," the paper said. The NPC is due to meet in March.

The scheme has faced growing criticism for being open to abuse and public anger has previously erupted over sentences deemed too harsh.

Earlier this month, the official microblog of the CCTV state news channel quoted Mr Meng Jianzhu, a member of the powerful 25-strong Politburo who oversees politics and legal affairs, as saying that China would stop using the system.

The reports were quickly removed, but the following day the China Daily said the government "will push reforms".

At the time news of the changes was widely welcomed on China's hugely popular microblogging sites.