Chinese Activists Petition Leaders To Close Labor Camps Dissent Flares With The National People's Congress About To Open. It Was The 4th Set Of Petitions In As Many Days.

Posted: March 01, 1995

BEIJING — Continuing an intense outburst of political criticism, 22 activists and wives of dissidents serving labor camp sentences argued yesterday that China's ''re-education through labor" camps are historical relics and should be abolished.

In a petition to the national legislature, the activists said the police- run labor camps violate the constitution and criminal code.

Police in China may sentence people to such camps for up to three years without charge or judicial proceedings. Authorities have resorted to sending dissidents to the camps with increasing frequency.

The petition said putting dissidents in camps also violates the International Declaration of Human Rights.

It was the fourth set of petitions in as many days to the National People's Congress, which opens Sunday for its annual three-week session. Petitioning the congress has become something of an annual activity.

On Monday, two prominent dissidents were heard from. One, student leader Wang Dan - jailed for four years after the ill-fated pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989 - sent a letter to the parliament demanding safeguards for human rights and justice.

The other, 52-year-old Xu Wenli, broke the silence he had maintained for almost two years - since his release from prison after 12 years - and, speaking through his wife, demanded an end to one-party rule, a crackdown on corruption, and stronger rule of law.

Their statements came just two days after a dozen of China's most prominent intellectuals petitioned the parliament to demand establishment of an independent judiciary and constitutional democracy to combat escalating corruption.

The 12 - who included leading scholars, two dismissed editors of the People's Daily, and several dissident intellectuals jailed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations were crushed - challenged the Communist Party to tackle what party chief Jiang Zemin himself calls a "virus" threatening communist rule.

Their petition was carefully timed to precede the opening of the parliament's annual session, a time when the party is at pains to show that it welcomes open discussion - and when it may be less likely to muzzle critics.

The legislature approved the establishment of the labor camps in 1957, during a Communist Party campaign against critics. The camps are "a political product of a unique historical period," the petition said.

China's future depends, it said, on "the establishment of rule of law, an improved legal system, using the law as the ultimate authority, and earnest

safeguarding of democracy and human rights."

The petitions represent a surge of activism among dissidents, whose ranks have been decimated by arrests and sentences in the last year.

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