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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 March 2007, 10:29 GMT
China reviews 're-education' law
Chifeng Prison, Inner Mongolia
Thousands are held under the "re-education through labour" system
China's parliament is to consider reforming a controversial law allowing police to send crime suspects to labour camps without trial, state media said.

Reforming the "re-education through labour" system is one of 20 items to be tabled at next week's National People's Congress, the China Daily reported.

The newspaper backed changes to the law, but warned of stiff opposition.

The system, known as "laojiao", allows police to send mainly petty criminals to jail for up to four years.

As many as 400,000 people have served terms in "re-education through labour" camps, the China Daily reports.

Adopted in 1957 as a way of tackling dissidents, the law is now frequently used to punish suspects in minor crimes such as prostitution, drug use and petty theft.

However, critics say it has also been used as a way of detaining political and religious activists.

'Lots of disagreements'

The China Daily said the NPC would consider a new, more lenient version of the law when it meets next week.

Under the proposal, the camps would be re-named "correctional centres", all bars and gates would be removed and the incarceration period shortened to less than 18 months, the paper reports.

China's National People's Congress
Draft laws on tax and property
New motions aimed at tackling government corruption
School fee exemptions for some areas
Macro-economic controls

In an editorial, the China Daily welcomed the proposed changes, saying the current law is "increasingly out of step with the country's progress in protecting human rights".

However, the newspaper pointed out that the proposed legislation has been on the parliament's agenda for the last two years, "and the standing committee said there were still "lots of disagreements" this year".

There are also no plans to change another labour camp system called "reform through labour", or "laogai", under which political activists have also been detained.

The annual session of the National People's Congress, which largely rubber-stamps decisions made by the ruling Communist Party, opens on Monday.

As well as "laojiao", the parliament is also expected to consider important laws on corporate tax and property rights as well as education.

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