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Reform of the Re- education through Labour (RETL)

Q1. What is Re-education through Labour (RETL)?

A1. The concept of the Re-education through Labour is stipulated in the Proposed Measures of the Re-education through Labour which was published by National Security Bureau and agreed by the State Council in 1982. The Measures has built a controversial system named “Lao Jiao” in China, by which a person could be placed behind bars for three years without a trial. The punishment can be even extended to a fourth year if the person being held in “Lao Jiao” confinement is considered not sufficiently re-educated.


A2. What is the legal status of the RETL?

Q2. The legal status of the RETL is always ambiguous. A person’s freedom could be deprived by applying the RETL compulsory measures, though RETL is not a law which shall be passed by the National People’s Congress according to the Constitution.


A3. What is the current attitude of the leadership towards RETL?

Q3. Currently, RETL reform is to be pushed. According to Meng Jianzhu, the secretary of the Political-Legal Committee, the Standing Committee of the NPC has been asked to halt RETL by this year's end. Authorities have reached a consensus on the necessity of the reforms and have been conducting research. However, the timetable for the reform could not be provided.


A4. What is the legal basis for depriving person’s freedom?

Q4. According to Article 8 of the Legislation Law, only national law may be enacted in respect of matters relating to:

(i)  state sovereignty;

(ii) the establishment, organization and authority of various people's congresses, people's governments, people's courts and people's procuratorates;

(iii) autonomy system of ethnic regions, system of special administrative region, and system of autonomy at the grass-root level;

(iv) crimes and criminal sanctions;

(v) the deprivation of the political rights of a citizen, or compulsory measures and penalties involving restriction of personal freedom;

(vi) expropriation of non-state assets;

(vii) fundamental civil institutions;

(viii) fundamental economic system and basic fiscal, tax, customs, financial and foreign trade systems;

(ix) litigation and arbitration system;

(x) other matters the regulation of which must be carried out through enactment of national law by the National People's Congress or the Standing Committee thereof.


A5. What are the controversial points regarding RETL?

Q5. The RETL measures have been heavily discussed by scholars and legal professionals for decades as to many controversial parts, for example:

1. There is no legal basis for RETL to deprive person’s freedom.

2. The object to which the RETL would be applied remains hazy.

3. Since the Proposed Measures of RETL is not a national law at all, the sanctions provided thereof are too severe for the person who breaches the provisions.

4. The procedures of decision making, review, implementation and supervision of the RETL are not justified or completed according to the current Proposed Measures.

5. Many provisions in RETL are too old to catch up the current civilized society which is governed by the Rule of Law. RETL application is always in contrary to the regulations stipulated in the Constitution, Legislation Law, Administrative Punishment Law and even the Treaty of the International Covenant on Civil and political rights.


A6. What Direction for Legal Reform under Xi Jinping

Q6. Xi Jinping’s decision to make Shenzhen the site of his first formal inspection tour as party general secretary spurred predictions that he will seek to assume Deng Xiaoping’s mantle as an economic reformer. According to Xi’s speech regarding China’s need for the rule of law—given on the 30th anniversary of the 1982 constitution—speculation could be arisen from the society that he may pursue legal and political reform in China.

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